Water, why do you have to be so water-y?

We have been having a ridiculous winter this year. Very warm, until it became ridiculously cold and then warm again. I don’t even want to think about what these extreme temps and the thaw/freeze cycles are doing to the portions of our façade still covered in paint. (oh, but I do…).

During yesterday’s torrential downpour of epic proportions, I was ready with our two shop vacs to bail water from the cellar. We have done extensive work to keep the water outside and we succeeded for most part. The French drains in the back yard encourage rain water to go into the ground, rather than into our cellar, but the wild card has been our neighbor. See, when you live in a row house, what happens next-door doesn’t always stay there.

Last winter our cellar flooded twice because of burst pipes in the adjoining brownstone. It was not fun. Since there has been a lot of work going on next-door, I figured with the amount of water falling form the sky, surely some of it would find itself into the nether parts of our house. To my surprise, our cellar stayed completely dry. Yey!

But like everything in an old house, victories are short lived. There is always something lurking around the corner, ready to whack you upside the head to wipe that smile off your face (where it clearly doesn’t belong). This time, water figured a different way in. Like a civilized person, it came in through the front door.

The day started, innocently enough, with a me trying to clean the encaustic tile in the entry way. It’s pretty gross and in need of some elbow grease.

Tile Before

In googling how to clean encaustic tile, I found that everything involved purchasing some kind of cleaning product, something that would involve me leaving the house and spending money, none of which I was inclined to do right there and then. Instead, I decided to use the same stuff I use for cleaning our old bathtub: A paste made of baking soda, dish soap and water. It’s a mild abrasive that shouldn’t harm the tile.

(I did learn that ye old timey Victorians kept this tile looking presentable by applying weekly coats of wax or oil. Some of the oil may have been absorbed into the tile for good, hence some blotchy-ness).

(Personally, I just think this area has long been neglected and hasn’t seen some soap and water in a long long time)


I merrily applied my environmentally friendly home-made paste and scrubbed with a small brush.


Some of the grime came off pretty easily.

Test Clean

But it clearly requires more work, or else I wouldn’t have to point out the clean area… There are stubborn stains that didn’t come off with the first pass. Since the entryway  needs work (see broken tiles), I’m not ready to go all out and clean it so that it can be sealed. I just want it not to be absolutely gross.

Water on the floor.jpg

I was making (slow) progress, but the floor was (slowly) looking a bit more presentable, as seen on the left side of the photo. However, I noticed that no matter how much I wiped it down, the floor was getting progressively wetter.

Turns out yesterday’s rain came from the south, directly hitting the façade of the house (normally rain hits the back of the house). As the storm grew stronger, more water started pouring from under the door and from the mail slot.

So it was time to bust out the old junky towels. Soaked through 3 beach towels before it was all done. And by then, I didn’t feel like cleaning anymore. So we’ll try again some other time. There is still a lot of grossness to be removed from the pretty pretty tiles.


(here is what I used to make the paste: 1 cup baking soda, 2-3 tablespoons of dish soap, enough water to make it a paste).


Tile carnage

While picking through a pile of house parts that were in route to the dumpster, a Brownstone Detective found this:

Paint covered tile

It’s a section of the tile that surrounded a fireplace, with the wall still attached to it. It was covered in silver paint, probably spray paint. I know from the real estate listing  photos that it was the tile that complimented the fireplace mantel  currently  disassembled in my cellar (one of the three Killian Brothers mantels I brought home). There was quite a bit of non-painted tile intact (not that it matters, because paint comes off tile quite easily).

It took about 15 minutes, some nail polish remover, a metal scraper and a Mister Clean Magic Eraser sponge. Now it looks like this:

clean tile

It’s the same style of tile of three of our fireplaces (parlor and garden), but it’s not an exact match: colors are similar, but it’s a much larger size. It’s also still attached to about an inch of cement. I have no idea what I’m going to do about that. I love love love love old tile. I have no use for it (due to the color/size discrepancy, not to mention the hunk of wall that comes with it) yet I’m happy I have it.

(which is probably what all headers say about every bit of useless crap they own).

(on a side note, I wonder if the people removing all this stuff know that one little piece of tile like this retails for between $7-9? And that the two large flower relief tiles that were part of this set sell for about $50 each?)


Fireplace tile clean-up

The fireplace in the garden apartment looks like this:

It seems OK, until you take a closer look:

Varnish is splashed all over the tile. On the floor, the tile just looks sad. Sure, this tile is over 100 years old but it still has some life in it.

Enter my favorite tool in the whole universe:

Turns out the tiles had a layer of polyurethane on top. Some scrubbing and some Mr. Clean Magic Eraser did the trick:

While the tile is definitely showing its age, cleaning the gunk off it makes a huge difference. Here is the half way point with the right side cleaned up and the left side intact:

Here is a closer shot of the cleaned up border: