Big Project Week 4 (5, 6, 7…)

So where were we?

Ah, yes, the façade. The epic project to end all projects.

To recap: scaffold went up, and we had 28 days to strip. On day 29, the scaffolding turned into a pumpkin and went on to a different job site.

On the to-do list:

  • Repair holes in cornice, paint cornice
  • Stip façade
  • Remove vinyl flashing form around windows, restore old window frames (hoping those were still there)
  • Restore turned columns (which we hoped were still there).

So here is what got done:

Cornice. Our tin cornice had several holes. The part above the corbels is actually really thin – so thin that an overly enthusiastic wayward bird could puncture it.


So the holes got patched up with Bondo. The orange paint got scrapped off and the whole thing got coat of oil based paint in flat black.

Here is the cornice in progress:



Here is the cornice all done:


 Next up, the windows. The two turned columns were still there, however they were very damaged. The flashing did an excellent job of trapping moisture, which in turn rotted the wood.


Ugly flashing covered the columns


and trapped moisture, which did a number on the wood


The hubs rebuild and re-sculped the parts of the columns that were missing bits. Eventually these will need to come down for a full restoration, but for now they a) look good enough from street level and b) we stopped any further damage.

A coat of primer and paint and now they look like this:


Columns partially restored and painted to prevent further damage. Paint is left over from the front door project from a couple of years ago. 

Aaaaand the paint stripping. This one is self explanatory (but I’m working on a post about how to DIY your very own façade stripping, which is really not as scary as it seems). For now, suffice to say: PeelAway1 + Time + Water = pretty brownstone.


Before scaffolding went up , the house looked like this. 

The thing with stripping paint is ‘easy does it.’ You have to work in small areas and it’s super hard to resist the urge to just cover the whole damn façade in PeelAway all at once. Don’t! There is a limit to how much you can accomplish in a day, and if you over do it, you’ll be racing daylight (and exhaustion) to get it all off before it hardens beyond removal (which means you have to apply paint stripper to the paint stripper, and that’s just counter productive)


After the paint was removed, the stone was washed with citric acid, to bring the pH of the wall as close to neutral as possible. The citric acid, in turn, removed the old mortar in between the sheets of brownstone. So the entire façade was repointed with the appropriate mortar mix (not modern cement, because that will crack the stone).


The gray/light brown stuff on the wall between the window and the door is the runny left-overs of the old mortar. It will be washed off eventually. Will take some elbow grease to get it off. 

There are a few areas of stubborn pink paint. These are patches where the stone was improperly repaired in the past.  We found it impossible to remove the paint from it, so at some point in the near future, we’ll have a mason drill it out and do a proper repair job. This is one of those things that is well above our DIY skill level.


Palor window frames mid restoration. The white is just premier. 


The project started on August 1, with the delivery of the scaffold. The majority of the work was completed by August 22nd, when the hubs had to go back to work. We still worked on it over the weekend, until the scaffold came down on August 29.

How much did it cost?

  • Scaffold rental: $603.17
  • PeelAway 1 and related supplies: $374.25
  • Masonry supplies: $112.02
  • Other supplies (window restoration, new ladder, primer/paint, etc): $1,255.89

TOTAL COST: $2,345.33 (plus a whole year’s vacation taken in one chunk).

Cost was one of the two major factors why we decided to tackle this project ourselves. The estimates we were getting just for the façade work (not including fixing the cornice or dealing with the window flashing) started around 60K. The second deciding factor was that none of the contractors we spoke with wanted to use the technique we felt would do the least amount of damage to the stone. We hard a lot of power-washing/jackhammering, so, um…. no.



Big Project Week 3

So it’s more of the same, really.

As we removed the paint, we noticed that the stones needed mortar (re-mortared? is that a word?). Anyway, the appropriate mixture was made (light on the cement, heavy on the lime) so that it won’t dry too hard and damage the stone. The color mixture is a little tricky, but I think ours turned out pretty well.

The cornice got a second coat of paint (matte black, oil based), and it’s looking mighty fine, if I do say so myself.

The biggest thing that happened is half of the scaffolding came down.


So then we got to see our handy work a bit better:


At some point, the façade was patched, which what we presume is cement. It’s impossible to remove the paint from it. Eventually we’ll have a mason come take a look at it and maybe drill it out and fix it properly. But for now, the house will have a few splotches of pink.

So onto the home stretch!


Big Project week 2

(yes this is a bit late, since it’s almost week 3, but better late than never, yes?)

It’s been a hot summer in New York. It’s humid and gross and the simple act of blinking triggers a massive amount of sweat. While I’ve spent the week toiling away in air conditioned office, the hubs has been hanging off front of the house doing all sorts of amazing work.

Because of forecast called for heavy downpours for most of the week (which never really happened), the application of PeelAway1 was delayed. After much experimentation, we found that the optimum dwell time is 12-48 hours, depending on the surface to be stripped (flat surfaces need less, bumpy surfaces need more). Because we broke the cycle of application/removal (staggering the application and removal times so that you always have a section ready to strip), the stripping took a bit of a back seat to some of the other restoration work.

Remember our columns? For as long as we lived in the house, we always held on to hope that these guys were still under that thick band of ugly, no good, very bad flashing – and they were! Yey!


But they were also severely damaged. Our best guess is that the flashing was improperly installed, allowing moisture to slowly rot away at our pretty pretty columns.




With a lot of patience, the hubs stripped the old paint and started re-building the more damaged sections. To do this properly, the columns should come down but we don’t have the time for it now (column removal would leave a hole next to a rotted window. No bueno).


Knowing this is temporary, the approach was to stop the damage and make it look good enough from the street. Columns mid-repair:



IMG_3249 (1)

Big Project – week 1

Week 1 of the façade project is coming to an end. It still feels slightly unreal that we are tackling this. We’ve known for several years that we would need to do something about our façade, not just because of the ugly pink, but because the ugly pink was actually the wrong kind paint (regular paint, not masonry paint) and it was causing damage to the brownstone. Kinda like this:

Painting brownstone is generally not a good idea. Brownstone is a type of sandstone, which is very porous and soft, as far as stones go. Whenever water gets trapped in it (because it found a way in somewhere – water will always do that – but can’t find a way out, because it’s sealed in by paint), and temperatures drops during the cold months, the bits of water will freeze, which will cause them to expand and break a little bit of the stone. This is called a freeze and thaw cycle, and can happen dozens of times during the winter. It’s small incremental damage that eventually will become big/expensive/difficult to fix. The stone will appear deteriorated and turn to sand when you touch it. Not good. Not good at all.

Sometimes painting a brownstone is inevitable (at least for some of us, mere mortals and not Captain Money Bags). If that’s the case, using the proper type of paint (masonry paint) and making sure that the surface is properly prepared and properly painted should go a long way to prevent further damage.

Anyway. Here we are. Our façade was improperly painted in too many ways. Over the course of 4 winters, it went form fully painted to fully peeling. While this makes the removal of the remaining paint easier, it also escalates the urgency of getting this done before winter, as we have more ways for water to get in and damage the stone.

The only sane way to get this done is to put up scaffold, which went up on Monday. We have a total of 28 days to get the job done, before the scaffold goes away. No pressure.


So day 1, scaffold goes up, exploratory surgery is performed. We were always curious on whether our turned columns by the top bay window were still there. Our windows have thick bands of white vinyl flashing, a nod to an era we are not fond of, aesthetically speaking (hello 1990s).

Flashing was removed from the first window. The original window frame was stripped and painted black. Yes, this leaves us with a 2-tone paint job, but the windows will ultimately be replaced (with black ones), so this is preemptive.


Window frame minus ugly flashing. Existing window frames were stripped, painted and priorly caulked. Some of the paint on the stone on either side has been removed.

Day 2-5: Removed flashing from the first part of the bay window and found the original turned column. While it’s still there, it is in terrible condition. Our best guess is that the flashing was improperly installed and trapped moisture behind it. It will get stripped and painted (for now), but may need to be re-created in the future.


Damaged column, rotted windwo to the left.

Also, the only 2 remaining original windows in the whole house are rotted. Because of course they are.

Stripped the first chunk of façade (Peel Away has a dwell time of 36-48 hours to do its thing, so the initial setup can take a little time). While the paint came off fairly easily, found damage caused by improper patching of the stone. Seems as Portland cement was used to patch the stone, which means 2 things: damage to the stone, because the cement is too hard (same thing with the old bricks), and also it’s nearly impossible to get paint off cement. Don’t know why, but it is.

Weekend 1: cornice time! Our cornice had holes, that much we could see form the street. What we didn’t know was the extent of the damage. Also, we didn’t know anything about cornices, other than they are pretty.


Here is what we learned:

  • Tin cornices are very very fragile, particularly the crown part that forms the overhang. Ours downright wobbly and could be damaged by a distracted bird inflight.
  • Patching a hole presents a conundrum, because the patching material must be non-reactive to the tin. It must also expand and contract at the same rate, otherwise the repair won’t last.

There were 3 holes in the front of the overhang. These were patched with Bondo. There was also damage along the top, close to where the cornice meets the roof. This was something that we couldn’t see from below, and learned once we got up there.

(by we I mean Scott, because there is not a chance I will climb up that high. I’d need the FDNY to come pull me down, it would be scandalous).



Cornice repair in progress. From Muppet-flesh orange to black.

Anyway. while Scott was doing work up above, I was picking paint off the rough stone above the parlor window arches. Got to look at the stained glass up close and they are in terrible shape. The lead is sagging and folding over itself. Not good.


Seriously. This flashing. Why? Why? WHY?



Sagging stained glas. Sigh.

So this is where we are. I’m sure there will be plenty  more eye rolling this coming week.

A big project

Today was the start of A Big Project. We’ve been talking about this one for a while, and it really needs to happen. So in order to actually make it happen, this thing showed up today:

Screen Shot 2016-08-01 at 10.17.05 PM

On the hit list:

  • Patch and repaint the cornice (there are two holes in the metal cornice, and it’s currently painted orange)
  • Remove vinyl flashing from windows and caulk windows.
  • Strip paint

So yeah. It’s happening.


Dog days of summer

Things have been very quiet here on the blog. This usually means that life is getting in the way of house projects – and while this has been the case for the past several months, we are coming back full tilt. Prepping for a massive project this weekend, one that we have been meaning to do for years now, and finally (finally!) getting to it.

Here is the calm before the storm…


I promisse to be more forthcoming with updates. (Really).


Unabridged to-do list

Making lists is comforting. They provide the illusion of control; a sense of order and the hopefulness that things will get done. I love making lists. I find it is calming. Lists turn chaos into manageable orderly pieces. Lists calm me down. Lists give me hope. Yes, I make lists. Many lists.

Today is one of those crappy days – nothing monumental, but lots of crappy things keep happening. I’ve heard this feeling being referred to as being pecked to death by a duck, and that’s totally it. Lethal by the sum of its parts I guess.

So I am going to use the wondrous power of lists to take a delusionary moment away from this shit day, and compile a comprehensive and exhaustive (exhausting?) list of everything that needs to be done to the house. Starting from the front, working our way in, up from the cellar, to the roof and ending in the back yard. Ready? Here we go:


Finish stoop project

Coal shoot trap – needs new trap door

Strip and repaint gate under stoop

Fix front yard light

Remove cement, create flower bed

Strip and repair façade

Strip, patch and paint cornice

Replace windows

Purchase and install mail slot in front door

Replace entry door hardware



Repoint stones

Do something about the floor

Rebuild cellar stairs

Remove ugly paneling

Retrofit heating system to gas (or something more environmentally friendly)

Remove oil tank

Take down room that houses HVAC, since no longer needed by code (after the switch)

Replace rear hatch to back yard, make functional


Garden level

Finish plastering entry foyer

Replace ugly tile in foyer with something nicer

Fix plaster under the garden stairs

Install proper door trim on tenant’s front door.

Install proper door trim on both sides of French doors in tenant’s apartment

Fix plaster under parlor stairs

Replace all windows

Parlor level

Fix missing bits of encaustic tile in entryway

Hang light fixture in entry foyer

Fix plaster in entry foyer

Remove ugly hallway tile, replace with wood

Fix creaky stairs

Fix plaster in hallway

Strip and re-finish all woodwork

Remove stick on floor in skinny hallway, replace with wood

Clean out closet of doom

Turn closet of doom into 3 piece bathroom

Install new door in closet of doom/3 piece bathroom

Remove green bathroom from existence, prep for future kitchen

Fix floors in front, middle and rear parlor

Finish stripping front parlor summer cover, install

Redo bad fireplace stripping job.

Fix ceiling plaster in front, middle, rear parlor

Remove horrendous ceiling fan, replace with less offensive model

Finish plasterwork in rear parlor wall

Fix pocket doors (middle parlor to rear parlor)

Fix glazing on pocket door glass (middle to rear parlor), strip and re-finish doors

Redo bad strip job on rear mantle

Create new kitchen in rear parlor/green bathroom

Turn one of the rear windows into doors

Make window in bathroom (future kitchen) smaller.

Move radiators in front parlor

Make shutters in front parlor functional (strip?)

Front, middle and rear parlor woodwork.

Replace all windows


Top floor

Move roof access ladder back into closet (where it belongs)

Fix stair hall ceiling, including hole where ladder used to be

Repair stained glass skylight

Repair treads on stairs

Remove ugly tile from hallway, replace with wood

Replace temporary vinyl floor with wood.

Redo bathroom

Turn kitchen into my office/library

Remove drop ceiling in rear top floor

Finish stripping rear fireplace

Rebuild original cupboard

Fix plaster throughout

Turn front little room in walk in closet

Fix plaster in small front room

Make ladder closet not scary, turn into linen closet

Strip millwork in small front room

Paint ceiling and coves in bedroom

Apply second coat of paint on bedroom walls

Finish stripped woodwork

Re-wax floor

Fix squeaky floorboards

Replace middle window, restore small windows

Paint radiator

Replace all windows, except for the 2 original ones



Replace roof

Add insulation in cockloft

Replace skylights

Relocate roof hatch to its original location

Replace downspout as needed



Remove middle and bottom sections of fire escape

Close up top portion of fire escape, but preserve roof access

Install deck

Remove ugly pavers, replace with historic brick

Build new grape arbor

Build outside furniture to create living area under grape arbor

Build retaining wall to address sloping rear yard

Install French drain by the old tree pit

Remove flower beds by fence

Create raised planters to divide living area from grilling area

Rebuild rear extension. While this doesn’t happen, put new roof on extension

Replace squeaky vent chimney with with one less irritating.

Install water spigot somewhere

Install electrical outlet somewhere