Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Never-Ending Hot Showers!

During our house inspection, it was brought to our attention that the unsightly, rusty, improperly installed water heater on the back porch is 25 years old.

Due to its age and the fact that much of the plumbing and ventilation would have to be redone because it was not up to code, we decided to go ahead and upgrade to a tankless as part of the 203k loan. We had to do things that would add to the resale value, and this qualified.

Tankless water heaters don't make sense for everyone. Even considering the 30% tax credit, it takes generally 20 years to pay for itself in energy savings, and that's about how long they are expected to last. Not only are they double the cost up-front than a traditional tank heater, they typically require costly upgrades in ventilation and plumbing. For example, ours cost around $2000 for the unit plus necessary upgrades, installation, and labor. If you just switch out one tank for another traditional tank, you'd probably be looking at around $500. However, like I said, with our other necessary upgrades to make it all "legal," it would have been over a $1000. So considering the tax credit, it was only a couple hundred more to go tankless. And that small amount of money will more than pay for itself over the lifetime of the unit because they are highly energy efficient. With a traditional water heater tank, you pay for lots of water to be be kept hot 24/7. With a tankless, it only kicks on when you turn on the hot water. It has a small gas flame that heats the pipe as the water goes through it so you end up getting never-ending hot showers! Here's what it looks like properly installed on the south exterior wall off the back porch:

There are only a few down sides. It does take a little bit longer for the hot water to come through, but only maybe 30 seconds more compared to a regular water heater. Another thing is a slight drop in the water pressure if you use two hot water appliances at once, such as a shower and dishwasher. But to me, that's a fair trade for never-ending hot showers! When I researched online, some people complained about the water not getting hot enough, and this really concerned me because I like really hot showers. So I brought this up with Justin the awesome contractor, and he said that they do have built-in controls in the tankless heaters that don't allow it to get really hot, but that, due to his awesomeness, he could override it. And it definitely hasn't been a problem. The controls aren't as simple as the little dial on a regular water heater's thermostat because you are not supposed to be able to adjust it. I suspect that these controls are in there to somehow keep it more energy efficient to qualify for the tax credit. Also, a huge bonus for us is that it cleared out space on the back porch (the black is the foam around the water line running to the unit's new location):

Yes, that's much better. We like to spend a lot of time on this back porch, and it can feel pretty crowded with a water heater, washer, and dryer. Now that the water heater is out of the way, we are going to move our washer and dryer against the narrower wall to the right. That will really clear out the porch. Here's what the porch looks like now:

When our house was first built (I'm guessing sometime between 1900 and 1905), It actually had very modern plumbing for its time. It had a fully working sink, toilet, bathtub...and a water heater! This was rather revolutionary. How do I know this? Well it just so happens that the owners of the house next door (the Pearsons) have owned the home since the 1940s, and have actually done very little to the house considering how much most old homes have been through since the 1940s. The son of the deceased Mrs. Pearson who lived there for all those years was kind enough to give us a tour, and I asked him a lot of questions. Here is the Pearson house next to ours for comparison:

One of the things that had been very curious to me was some odd cabinets in my kitchen. One built-in cabinet I was sure was original because it had the same ornate framing around it that every original door and window had. However, there was another set of built-in cabinets next to it that didn't have the same framing, but definitely looked old. The hardware on both looked decidedly 1940s. Here's what I'm talking about, the one on the right. Note the two vertical lines you can barely see above them that go into the ceiling:

"Hmm," I thought, "Looks like someone built another set of cabinets in the 40s and then replaced all the hardware to match. Why would they build cabinets specifically right here? Maybe there was a chimney here that they took out, so they filled it with cabinets." There is a wood-burning stove on the other side of the wall right there in the dining room, so that would make sense. Here's another shot:

Notice the frame on the top of the one to the left that isn't there on the ones to the right. The ones on the left originally had doors, but that's another blog to come. That this was a  former chimney was my theory until I saw the Pearson kitchen. When I went into their kitchen, I saw a pass-through just like mine leading into the dining room, except theirs still had the ORIGINAL DOORS AND HARDWARE! That is very exciting for an old house enthusiast like me. Theirs had never even been painted and still had THE ORIGINAL FINISH! Okay that practically never happens. I was overjoyed. I knew instantly that our house had to be built by the same builder. I mean, they look very different from the outside and have rather different floor plans, but so many of the finishing details were exactly the same. (It turns out they were both built by (Henry?) Retterath.) And to the right of the pass-through, where my kitchen has built-in yet unmatching cabinets, the Pearson kitchen had...well I can't really think of how to explain it. It's like the wall became U-shaped right there. There was nothing there. Just a 3-sided indention in the wall. The Pearson's had a stove sitting awkwardly in front of this void in the wall. I guess if you look at my cabinets and just imagine that instead of cabinets, the wall is just set back a couple feet right there from floor to ceiling, that would properly describe it. So I asked Mr. Pearson why their wall looked like that, and he told me that that is where the original water heater went when they built the house. Then it all made sense. So in the 1940s when the Forsythe's were updating the kitchen, they moved the water heater (I'm assuming a newer one) to the back porch to make more room for cabinet space. And here we are 100 years since the ground-breaking automatic water-heating tank was first installed, and we've installed a state of the art tankless water heater (and once again freed up the back porch). History repeats itself. I can't imagine water heating technology ever advancing past tankless. I mean, never-ending hot showers!

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Finished South Wall

The last post ended with the terribly bad south wall:

 It looks much worse than the rest of the house. It is also the only side that is not visible from the street. It gets the most sun and the most rain exposure because it's the only side without a porch. And for whatever reason, it's the only side without a gutter. And, as fate would have it, it's the only side that didn't get painted before the previous owner (PO) was foreclosed on. When the PO bought this house back in the 80s (when I was just a baby down in the Dirty South), He painted the whole house. Then when he was trying to sell it some time around 2003, he repainted the house, except for this one side. Repairing this side was the most major thing that had to be done with the 203k money.

The bottom skirting had to go. It was rotted. The siding was hit and miss. Some boards had to be replaced, but since it was redwood, it fared pretty well given the circumstances and mostly only had to be scraped, sanded, and repainted. When they first took off the skirting, the side of the beams that were touching them (the only side you couldn't see down in the basement) were heavily damaged by termites. Though we never saw any actual termites, the damage they left behind was severe. I probably could have kicked in some of the beams myself. This was quite a surprise. Had we known the contractors would have to jack up half our house and replace the supporting beams, we probably wouldn't have bought the house. Not that it was a difficult or trying experience, it just sounds scary. I mean, I didn't have to do anything. I just went outside and brought the guys coffee every once in a while. Not a big deal. Why does everyone whine and complain about contractors? I have no idea. Our contractor was awesome. His name is Justin Chaney, and he operates out of Orland. I will post his phone number as soon as I find it. After all the unexpected work they had to do, the project still came in under budget. Here's what it looked like while they were working on it:

The guy in the orange shirt is Justin, the awesome contractor. Too bad I didn't get pictures of the eaten out beams. I had to leave during a large part of this due to the death of both of my grandfathers. These pictures were actually taken by our very considerate and helpful neighbor, Andy. Anyway, here's what it looked like afterward:



It still hasn't stopped raining, so I didn't have very good lighting, but it is the same color as the rest of the house. Note the lack of doggy doors. You can see the stickers still in the new windows. Though I didn't want to replace the windows, the ones on this side had to be replaced according to the bank giving us the loan. At least they are all on the side you can't see from the street. And since they had to be replaced, we got one of the most energy-efficient kinds available. After all, this side does get the most sun.

Here are the old windows. We used the parts we needed from them to fix other broken windows in the house. There were two with cracked glass, a few broken weights, and lots of missing hardware. There is still lots of missing hardware unfortunately. I don't know if the PO took them with him when he moved out or if someone came in during the very long time the house sat empty and removed them. Several door knobs were also missing. At least I have a few of the original so I can replace the missing ones to match eventually. For now, I don't know what to do with these windows. I guess I should keep them lest something happen to one of my other windows. Several people told me they are worth money and advised me to sell them on Ebay, but I looked and couldn't really find anything comparable. Plus they are in really bad shape, and worst of all, the glass is not original, which I think is the expensive, rare part. My understanding is that the technology to make perfectly smooth glass panes didn't develop until the 1930s or later. So old glass has a wavy effect with lots of little imperfections in it. Most old house restorers find this charming. I believe all my glass was replaced in the 1980s when PO first bought it and was doing lots of things. But I don't really know this. They might have been replaced in the 1970s when the Penningtons modernized it with popcorn ceiling and such. I'm not sure. But either way I'm really glad they were never completely replaced. I still have one wavy glass window in the water closet (half bath off the kitchen). I suspect it was not replaced with smooth glass because the waviness added to the privacy of the bathroom. Anyway, I'm trying to decide what to do with these.

Well that's it for today. Next I'll talk more about the water heater and wood-burning stove.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An Exterior Tour

To those of you who excitedly clicked on the link in your email from Richard to see our house blog, all I can say is that I apologize for the crushing disappointment you must have felt when seeing that I had only posted one picture. I am not tech savvy in any way. Getting the one picture up was challenging enough, mostly because it was raining all day, so I could not take any exterior pictures. All these pictures have been taken out of the pdf that we got with our appraisal. To do that, I had to call a friend to teach me how to use (Microsoft) Paint. That's embarrassing. I mean, I'm pretty sure Paint came out when I was in 6th grade. I really should know how to use it. Anyway, these pictures today are all from before we bought the house. The "after" pictures will be up as soon as the weather improves. On with the exterior tour...

This is the front of the house. Note the broken fence posts. I'll post about that later. This door opens into the parlor (or the living room for those of you without an imagination). The turret is located in this room. The windows on the left are the study (or office, if you must). There is no foyer in this house. I cried at first, but then I got over it.

This is the north side of the house. As you can probably tell, it's on a corner. The windows between the turret and the side door are in the dining room, as is the side door. The dining room and parlor are separated by pocket doors. The windows to the far right are over the kitchen sink.

This is the back side of the house from the street. The back porch is screened in and connects to the kitchen. You can see a sliver of the 2-car carport to the right.

The bottom door that looks like it's for elves goes to the basement. In this picture you can see where the paint job ended. The unpainted side is the south side. And it was pretty terrible...


This is what I like to call the haunted house side. It looks pretty disturbing. The window to the far left is one of the bedrooms downstairs. The smaller window is the Jack-and-Jill (shared) bathroom between the two downstairs bedrooms. The three windows in the bay are the second bedroom downstairs. The far window to the right is the study.

I don't know why this side didn't get painted. The lower wood skirting and the wood around the windows was rotted and warped. From the inside bedroom here with the bay window, you could see the outside light coming in around the window frames.
This is on the same south side. When I saw the plethora of doggy doors, I knew this house was for me.  That yellow colored thing on the left is a cinder block built into the wall of the basement. I have no idea why. Anyway, all of this nonsense is gone now. Weather permitting, I will post the new pics tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Introduction

Hi, and welcome to Richard and Kathleen's house blog. After six months of trying for this one house, involving three escrows, three mortgage brokers, three weeks in a hotel, and lots of prayer, we finally moved into our 100+ year old Victorian in August. We are very happy with our decision, and can't wait to share our restoration projects with you so that you can restore a Victorian vicariously through us. Because let's face it; it's not for everyone, but everyone can certainly enjoy reading about it.  
Though I would like to immediately go into the details of our progress so far, the type of loan we got is critical to understanding why we are making certain repairs before others. The bottom line is that we absolutely could not have bought this house without a 203K Rehabilitation loan. Trust us. We tried every other way, hence the three escrows. The 203K loan is a government-insured loan that is specifically for houses that do not meet the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) standards. A few ways in which our house did not meet their standards: broken windows, uninstalled toilet and sink, broken water heater, holes in the walls and ceilings, a caved in ceiling, exposed electrical wires, etc. The purpose of a 203K is to borrow additional money on top of your purchase price to fix these things. But, you have to find a bank that is willing to lend more for a home that what you are paying for it, which these days is very difficult. So we had to borrow more money to cover things which add to the resale value of the home, not just the bare basic things that had to be fixed. This included things like repainting, popcorn ceiling removal, new appliances, tankless water heater, etc. We didn’t like this part of it because even though we wanted to take care of these non-essential things eventually, we weren’t keen on financing them for 30 years, but like I said, we had to do these things to get the home loan. And even with the additional money we had to borrow, and including insurance and taxes, our house note was still considerably less than rent. So we still think this is a wise decision.