Category Archives: Farmhouse Renovation

Gutting The House? It’s gutting me.

For me, there’s guilt in ripping apart this house and rebuilding it.

First it’s the pain of knowing that you’re cutting apart a house that’s stood the test of time. For us, our house was built in 1843. So it’s pretty much 170 years old, and it’s still standing and it’s brick walls are still square and are still standing. So cutting out floor joists because they’re sagging and the floors are out of level just seems a little mean. To the house, I mean. Mean spirited. Like the house has feelings or something. Doesn’t everyone feel like that? In tune with their house?


Damn. Just me then.

I had this lovely thought when we were pulling out the ceiling joists and I was looking at the timber, that this tree was probably alive during the revolutionary war. The tree whose wood we were cutting and pulling down was probably standing when the pilgrims arrived. These beams, they might not any longer be part of the structural integrity of our home, but we’re going to keep them in our home. We’re thinking of ways of recycling them. I’d like to see them become the benches that will sit at either side of our dinner table, supporting another generation at family dinners.  Stubborn Boy would like to see them turned into our kitchen island, where we will craft all of our delicious food experiments.

(Hard apple cider? Fermented cabbage? Homemade vinegar? Any suggestions?)

Of course these beams will remain in the house. I just need to get over the fact that we’re not hurting the house. We’re making it strong again, so it can stand for another 170 years or longer.

The house is coming along

Have you ever gutted a house? And then tried to rebuild it? It’s agonizing. It’s uplifting. It’s a lot of work…

We’ve been at it since October. First there was demolition of the upstairs. then we cleaned the basement. “Bagging the ick,” that’s my name for that horrible job. Spiders and cobwebs and thirty years of an indoor trash dump (sometimes you just have to ask yourself, Who Were These People? Seriously a trash heap in your house? Eww).

Then after weeks of bagging the ick, we were so filled up with trash that we couldn’t move and had to order a dumpster. Three weekends. Maybe four? I don’t remember anymore.

Next while getting to the bottom of why the floor in the bathroom squishes, we discover that the floor is just basically one or two floorboards away from collapse. Three trips to Lowes, one week just for the floor and wall panels, another two to get the toilet working. The wall plastering is still a work in progress. Plus running new plumbing fixtures and pipes. Three weeks ? More or less..

Next start demo on the main floor. Get halfway through. Realize you’re buried in trash, again. Order dumpster, again. Two weekends.

Realize that after three weeks of jacking up the house, you’re not fixing the unlevel part of the house, and are just making another part of the floor unlevel, so come up with plan B and cut out all of the floor joists. And then restring them using double joist brackets. Then subfloor. One weekend. Per floor. Per side of house. X 3 so far…  = three more weeks.

We’ve been at it since October. While it’s a lot newer than it was when we started, it still looks almost exactly the same. There’s something frustrating about that, if you ask me. Although the smells are a lot nicer. I’d rather smell glue and paint and sawdust, then smell animal and foul and yuck.

A project is born~!

Hurrah to November 30, 2012. It’s the day we finally closed, after months and months of emailing documents, scanning pages for the bank, phone calls to the attorney, and numerous stress sessions with the stubborn boy saying, “Are we SURE we want to do this?”

While I’m thrilled to finally be closed on the property, the big downside to closing in November is that we only have six months to get all the work done. Which is pretty difficult considering a bulk of our work is getting the house ready for winter, which seems to already be upon us.

The former owner, Mr. K., graciously had allowed us access to the house to get some preliminary work done. Thanks to him, we had completed demolition on the entire second floor.

Here’s a picture so you visualize what I’m talking about:


This is the front of the house, which we also call the “main house.” While there doesn’t seem to be too much information about the house, it’s pretty evident that the current house was built in three stages. So the main house is the oldest part of the house, dating to 1843.  You can see part of what we call the “extention” off the back right of the house, where the lower roof and two windows are. That is currently serving as Camp Headquarters, complete with a crockpot kitchen, sleeping chambers and half completed bathroom.

So this house needs: A new roof. New windows. Insulation. Floors need to be leveled in all of the rooms. Complete repointing. Brick rebuilds in several locations. Window Lintel repairs since they’re cracked. And of course, since we had to get to the walls and floors inside to see what, exactly, we’re dealing with, we now need completely new interior framing since we’ve ripped everything down to the brick and joist.

We’ve got three fourths of the demolition done so far. You can see the upstairs fireplace and partial downstairs fireplace running from the main floor straight up to the roof. Alas, it’s coming down. The chimney collapsed I don’t know when, and someone bricked them both up. Plus, it will be impossible to insulate the house if we have an air shaft running through to the outside. Man, what a kick in the teeth that moment of realization was. All my adult life, living in NY and visiting my friends apartments with their gorgeous exposed brick walls… It’s an impossibility if you have a brick wall on the exterior because it’s impossible to insulate.

It can be kind of cool doing demo on an old house. Now, a lot of the demoltion went fast because

1)the house is so old and

2)there was a fire around 1960 which forced some major repair work

So a lot of what we’re encountering is not original to the house. I can’t really tell whether or not the joists are original to the house. What I can see (but you cannot as the photo doesn’t show it) is that the joists are all cut up and sistered to other joists, so they’ve lost a lot of their strength and support, which is why the floors were dropping in the center.  Lucky for me, the stubborn boy came up with a solution. He’s ordering 18 replacement joists, 2x8x16 Select Structure ™ Douglas Fir, and he’s going to restring the entire west side second story.  Which completely freaked me out until he was so casual about it, so I’m really calmed down now. Plus, the new floor joists will eat up time, but not crazy amounts of capital. (remember, I’m rehabbing an old house. Eighteen new floor joists (dollar wise) is nothing compared to the cost of say, twenty two windows or a new roof complete with rafter rebuild.

All in all, i’m thrilled to be started. Now I just need to make sure that stubborn boy stays on focus. We do have some capital available to us, but I don’t want to spend every penny we have rehabbing this house at the sacrifice to the farm.  After all, it was the promise of fresh eggs and goat cheese that we jumped into this vision, er, whole hog, if you will…  We just need the house habitable, so that I can get started with building the farm.

A case of cold feet

It’s taking too long. Why haven’t we closed yet? Is this some sort of sign from the gods that I’m NOT supposed to be buying a farm? Or is it a test, that I have to PROVE that I really REALLY want to farm?

And what about my easy cushy life? I’m a flight attendant, for goodness sake. I jet around to vacation destinations, laying over in exotic cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Tulsa … And I get a paycheck, and health insurance, and free flights, and a retirement pension.

I can take vacations whenever I want to, without worrying about who’s going to take care of the goats? The pigs? The dogs?  Who’s going to water the garden, or the chestnut saplings?

I’ve got a nice apartment and if there’s a problem, I can just complain to the landlord to fix it. Or I can move. Or I can do nothing, and just deal with it because ultimately, it’s still just an apartment. Nothing special, nothing disastrous.

The major problem in my life is that I WANT MORE…

There’s more to life than just going to work, coming home, doing it again the next day. I want a bigger challenge than biting my tongue and continuing to smile even if some passenger is a complete jerk.

Those goats? Who says I’m ever going to want to leave them? Who says tending goats isn’t the vacation of a lifetime?

And the apartment? It’s not mine. I dislike the carpeting, I find the kitchen too tiny. If it were mine I would. …  but alas, it’s not.

The farm? It will all be mine. Rain or shine, sunshine or clouds, I get to be a decision maker. I’m taking the reins of my life back into my own capable hands.

Now just breathe.


The First Surprise

I got a first unfortunate surprise yesterday.

We have a signed contract for the farmhouse and land as of Saturday night, YEEAAY! But, during the signing the owner mentions the buckle in the roof and how it probably has to be replaced soon. Now, I didn’t immediately go into panic mode because I’ve got Fred, my partner, who is a general contractor and knows everything about everything *He always knows everything about everything according to himself. In construction things, at least, I tend to agree…*

But Freddy gets a little worried about this news, so we return to the farmhouse to take a quick walkthrough the next day, even though by this point we have the signed contract and the deposit has been made.  And while we’re there, I see pretty much the same house as before, but Fred sees a completely different house this time around. Basically nothing can be salvaged in the farmhouse, whereas before we thought we could salvage some doors and crown molding, and some of the other fine features of the home.  And sure enough, the roof has got to go… we actually could see daylight in about five places. And the windows are boarded up in there…


So in order to distract ourselves, we decide to walk the property line which we have only done a little, and WoW!  I have a lot of land! 22.4 acres, to be exact, and parcel is a long narrow strip that runs parallel to the Mohawk river in sort of a boomerang shape and it’s just brimming with brush and trees, and Fred and I are walking and talking and he says this:  “it’s a lot of work. It’s a LOT of work, Kam, so I just want to know. You think the goats are going to be happy here?”  And as I looked at him, I realized that the goats, if we had them already, would say: