Friday, September 29, 2006

Looking for a job?

Then wrought iron work is for you! I'm flabbergasted how difficult it is to locate someone to install a gate at our house. A couple years ago, I called a few iron contractors to ask about some custom work, and got nowhere. It wasn't a priority, as at that juncture we were trying to get working plumbing, walls, etc. in our house. Now, however, we really would like to hire someone. Noone returns my calls or anything-and this is just one of those areas that we can't do on our own.

The worst thing about when this happens is your selection becomes so severely limited that you end up hiring someone bad. (flashback to our horrible plumber).

I think this is one of the reasons why there are so many DIYers out there...

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Radiator Stripping-Our Story

I actually started this post before the "air compressor incident." Little did I know the air compressor would be stolen before I finished it!

Anyway, I feel like we are exploring every single possibility to remove the paint off our radiators. We are making some progress, but it is slowgoing. We did prime one radiator (which is the one documented below)

Method 1- Pressure Washing
I think this offered the most bang for the buck. (in terms of least messy with quickest results) We first used our pressure washer on 2 of our radiators, and were able to get all of the top coat off, and various layers below to primarily the "first" paint coat, a bronze color. It took us a few hours to do this with our electric pressure washer. (one of the more basic models). With a gas powered pressure washer, or just a generally more powerful one, the results may have been quicker and more complete. This photo shows the power washing in action-it was completely white before we began working left to right.

After the initial huge success at getting a lot of paint off, our continued efforts had limited on to step 2.

Method 2 - Old fashioned citrus stripper.

I actually didn't use this enough to give it a full report. In light of the disappearance of the air compressor, weather permitting I'll probably do more stripping. (didn't have the heart to do it last night). I did 2 courses of stripper on one side of one radiator. The first course of stripper, I probably didn't leave on for enough time, and only some paint came off. Second time, paint came off as well, but it wasn't significant (or compared to the pressure washer it seemed like nothing!). I think the best stripping bet is to tent it in plastic and leave it on for a longer period of time. This worked really well on the marble fireplace I stripped. I find though, that once you have a really great first initial removal of paint (in our case the pressure washing method), the incremental changes are less noticeable.

This photo shows after using the stripper.

Method 3- Sandblasting

Our final treatment of radiator 1 was sandblasting through an attachment to our former air compressor. This is by far the messiest,and I'd say the most tedious. (but also generally the most fool proof in getting the paint off by focusing on one area. The sandblaster acts more like an eraser, erasing each layer of paint. I easily then got the remaining paint removed. The interior portion of the radiator was difficult to reach with all the methods. I think it does a wonderful job of getting into the little crevices, but is probably best to be used after the majority of paint is removed. (which was the case after pressure washing).

Our first attempt on Sunday, we had "all purpose sand" and it would clog the intake hose-making work even more slow going. We went back to Home Depot and got "medium sand" from Quikrete, and things moved quicker. It was funny, because the Home Depot receipt listed "sandblasting sand" as the line item-however, neither the bag, nor any signage in the store indicated what the appropriate sand was for sandblasting. Hypothetically, we could have asked someone, but as usual, there wasn't anyone around. Also, the previous time we were in that department at that store, we asked about sawhorses and the Home Depot employee did NOT KNOW what a sawhorse was! (We were both rather astonished about that).

Oh, and a cautionary note that the sand is quite insidious. Be forewarned if you ever decide to sandblast.

They make combination pressure washer/sandblasters that would probably be the best bet.

Here's the sandblasting action shot:

(That is me in there somewhere! Under the mask, eye protection, hearing protection, and hat)

Post sandblasting (I would have worked for 15 minutes longer if the air compressor hadn't been stolen)

And, without further ado, our primed radiator!

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Two steps forward, a big step back

Yet again, outside forces have prompted a step back. In our effort to get the radiators done before the fast approaching winter, both Glenn and I worked all day today on the house. I handled the task of sandblasting one of the radiators, and did that pretty much all day. (15 minutes on, 15 minutes off) Glenn worked on molding, cutting it in bursts, and using the air compressor at various points to nail it in.

At 4:20, I took a brief break, went inside to grab Glenn to figure out the last bit of sandblasting (running out of sand), before we prime tonight. He was on the phone, so I waited a few minutes. In the interim someone came INTO our house, unplugged the compressor, and walked off with it!! So, now Glenn has to go get his 3rd compressor.

Of course, the violation of someone coming into your home to steal something is bad, the loss of money (that definitely could be spent on a number of different areas), also is bad, but considering I was going to finish with the compressor in 15 minutes, and be done with a little segment of a project, and that Glenn may have installed molding tonight is even more upsetting.

At this juncture, I'm not in the picture taking mood-and I think I'm not supposed to go in the area as we wait for the evidence guy to come, but I'll share photos soon and be back to the "look how far we have come" mode. But for now, it's a brief bit of the wind being knocked out of me.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

A history lesson

Saturday, Glenn and I went to the Art Institute's "research your house's history" which we really enjoyed. All around a great day.

Some of our preliminary findings: (1) In the 1940s our house was valued in the lowest bunch in the city. (we always knew it was working class). (2) Some houses on our street are on the national register (not ours). (3) we found a copy of the nomination form to make our district be recognized on the national register. We could have spent hours in the Art Institutes Burnham library. One of the most interesting books I found was a "land use survey" from the mid-40's. It was quite large but had a wealth of information about chicago communities-density, percentage owner occupied v. renter occupied, numbers with plumbing, etc. Many, many charts. I sent in one of the books for copying that listed our street and a number of breakdowns specific to our street in 1946 (or whatever the exact date was).

In case you want to look up your chicago area house history, here's some of the "tips" they gave us.

To locate a summary of information on your house, you can go to: and put in your house address.

To check to see about the types of architectural styles on your street, you can go to

To find out if you have a landmark property on your street, you can go to

To find old building permits, you can go to:
University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) Daley Library, 801 S. Morgan Street, 3rd floor


Chicago's Freedom of Information Office, Department of Building in City Hall--121 N. Lasalle St.


Chicago History Museum Research Center--1601 N. Clark Street

** Keep in mind the year your house was built and its location. No permits will be listed with the City of Chicago until your section of town was annexed by the city.

Unfortunately, I don't think our previous owners ever used permits. We still need to run checks on what our street name used to be. (our street name, along with many others in Chicago changed I think in the early 20th century)

To find information on previous owners:

To to the Cook County Recorder of Deed (records online after 1985)

[Glenn and I are always checking out the site (recorder site) to find out info on transitioning property in our neighborhood-most recently the house across from us that was sold to "We Buy Ugly Houses".

Census Records- Published every 10 years beginning in 1841, but only released after 70 years. The Newberry Library has the most complete set of Census records.

Anyway, there's more particulars, but that could get you started, and you could ask your librarian. The big resources in chicago, are the 1) Chicago History Museum Research Center (reopening October 3, 2006) (2) The Newberry Libary (offering a course in researching your house) and (3) the Your House Has a History downloadable pdf available through the City of Chicago Landmark Commission. (

After all that, we did get some work done around the house too, but that will come with a later post.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Practice makes perfect, except for me

At this juncture in our project, you would think I've thoroughly refined my home renovation skills-particularly the ones that I do over, and over and over again. Like, painting. Well, after an evening of painting, I've determined I'm just as bad as I was when I started the project.

Way back when in the fall of 2003 I used the first color in the house. A vibrant blue color in the kitchen.(of course, this was prompted by I think our living room ceiling coming down, so I painted some color as a little pick me up, a step back, need to step forward, right?) Anyway, I digress. During this little paint job, I stepped in the paint tray. The dark vibrant blue paint tray. (to come to my defense, the kitchen was very crowded with furniture and boxes and I was trying to avoid all these things-which I did, but stepping in paint trays I think would get me kicked out of Painting 101.

So, yesterday, many walls, paint cans, and brushes later, I did the final coat in our living room. In the process, I got paint on the ceiling, had paint drippings and stepped on a trim paint pad. (avoided the tray this time-so I guess I did learn something). Of course, I also errantly tossed the trim paint pad onto the ground. (thankfully, it landed on the well tarped area).

I guess the good thing is none of this happened when I had to touch up our red bedroom paint or paint the molding in there. (I taped VERY well).

Alas, painting is not my calling, but the job is done.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Radiator Progress Report

Well, in short we still have radiators sitting in our back yard in various stages of undress.

The pressure washing did a good job of removing the vast majority of the top layer of paint, and various sections of paint below. But, the different levels of the paint required us to do more work in order to get an even finish when we paint.

So, onto plan B. The ever trusty citrus stripper. I can't tell you how many gallons of this stuff I've gone through with my various stripping projects. (the marble fireplace, the stairs, doors, molding-and surely I'm forgetting something). But, it's been a bit, so now time to work on the radiators.

The extent of my stripping experience quickly revealed itself when I started to work on the radiator. First a fleck of something came off and was on the radiator. Then, big chunks of my brush started flying off. Ever the determined stripper, I continued on despite the difficulty. I was able to get some of the remaining paint off, but we are now moving onto Plan C (aka excuse for Glenn to add to his tool repertoire).....

Sandblasting! That's what's on our agenda for this weekend.

Oh, Glenn also bought a hoist and a paint sprayer for this little project. The hoist will allow us to get the radiators back to the 2nd floor without calling in the troops.

As a funny aside (or so I think) the hoist instructions were in German. There sort of was an English translation, but not all the German was translated. I studied German in college and thought I'd just pick up and figure it out. Very odd. in any case, we'll only be dangling hundreds of pounds off the side of the house, so no need for us to have any worries or anything. Really, what's the worst that can happen?

Finally-we did locate the appropriate sized pipe at a plumbing supply store. Irritatingly, they gave me the wrong size pipe so I had to go back, but we have all the parts-ready for Glenn to install. Heat is in our future!


Our Bedroom

We have officially finished our very first room in our portion of the 2 flat!! Of course, we've been living there, and had tenants, so other rooms are liveable (ie. our completely working kitchen). But, this is the first room that has all its paint, flooring, and MOLDING. We even have upgraded our vinyl blinds to honeycomb top down/bottom up blinds.

Our dressing room is mostly finished, but we sometime in the near future will install a more comprehensive closet system.

So, without further ado...the befores:

To sumarize what we did, we put drywall up on the ceiling, selectively removed plaster, skim coated some plaster, installed molding, painted, pulled up all the flooring, added insulation, leveled the floor, added carpeting, added outlets and a circuit, added multimedia outlets, installed lights on either side of the bed with dimmers, installed a ceiling medalion and ceiling light fixture.

And, the afters:


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Hideous gargoyles and a step down memory lane

We spent Saturday doing a little exploration on our house and preserving our street. First, we attended our Alderman's community fair which had a number of different community development organizations and representatives from the Illinois Historic Preservation Committee. We had quite the enlightening conversation with the Preservation guy informing us that basically there's nothing we could do to preserve our street. (though we can try contacting our alderman-the alderman's office already knows me, as I seem to be calling his office once a month or so). Our little bone to pick is with this hideous concrete monstrosity that our neighbor (thankfully end of the block neighbor) put up complete with gargoyles. Yes, gargoyles. Does that sound like it fits on the same block as our house?? The building itself is ugly with no redeeming qualities from an architectural standpoint-but liveable. The gargoyles though is what makes the place look so hideous. Technically, our block is on the national historic registry. However, without protection on the state level, there's really no way to enforce that. If we see something happening, we need to go lobby our alderman.

I'll try to post pictures of this monstrosity-but someone's always around when I am. I have thought about submitting it for the "What's with that house" show on HGTV.

More fruitful, was our trip to UIC to look at the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps to see what the footprint was of our house back in 1917 and 1950. For those of you who don't know, these maps were prepared to show the possibility of fire for each dwelling. They have a legend on them showing that some dwellings were brick, or frame, or frame plus brick, etc. It was a nice trip down our house's memory lane. In a couple weeks we are going to head to the Art Institute where they are having a seminar on tracing your houses history. Should be fun. I really wish we could get old photos of what the house looked like, but realize that realistically isn't going to happen.


Home Depot lets us down one more time....

We've reached another little bump in the road with our radiator project -this one a lot more important than whether we could get all the paint off. Yesterday we went off to get the pipes we needed cut. Apparently, the pipes we want are too small and Home Depot won't cut them. Aargh!

So, this means I'll have to start calling plumbing supply places and every store under the sun to see whether they could help us out or keep the sizes we need in stock. Without these pipes we won't be able to turn any heat on the 2nd floor on-so speed on this is crucial. If all the radiators aren't painted, we could always cap the pipes and turn on heat to the others. (not optimal-but doable). pipes hanging out uncapped in the middle of our floor though--not a good thing.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006


After the mushroom debacle, we began the radiator work we needed to get done before cold weather comes (and before moving back upstairs). There's a few things we need to take care of including (1) repiping a radiator Glenn had to cut out (2) prepping the radiators taken out for the flooring project for painting (3) painting the radiators and (4) reinstalling the radiators.

For the first bit, Glenn had to unhook the pipes that had been cut so they could be replaced. He's had to do this a few times, and has learned some tips along the way. But, it still involved a fair amount of brute force to get pipes that haven't been touched for 70 years to move. He was able to successfully take off what he needed to (plus some other parts that came off also). Now, he'll have to get the replacement parts and hook them up before he could rehook up the radiator. Thankfully, the pipes he removed only connect about 5 inches beneath the floor so it won't be as bad to reconnect them, though still challenging.

After trying to scrape off the flaking paint from the radiators, we ended up bringing the radiators to our backyard for pressure washing. Of course, "bringing the radiators to our backyard" is a lot more arduous than that phrase implies. Each radiator is a couple hundred pounds of cast iron which needed to be lugged down a curving porch staircase before resting in our back yard. Glenn was on his own on this one, and thankfully no damage to Glenn or the porch resulted. (the radiators were the dangerous ones). At one point, it appeared that one radiator was en route to take out the neighbors fence-but fortunately that was just an illusion. I'm not looking forward to getting the radiators back up-as that will be even more difficult.

The pressure washing did a really good job and revealed a number of different previous paint colors-including bronze. We had contemplated putting stripper on the radiators, but the water is working so far that I don't think we'll have to mess with the chemicals.

Tomorrow, I'll probably work more on the radiators and other painting and Glenn will be back to doing some molding. If all goes well, we hope to be back upstairs next weekend--have to keep our fingers crossed on that one though.

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Mushrooms, pill bugs, and bulbs, oh my!

Before we ever got to do any "project" work today, I got to deal with a couple of our garden pests. When we got home last night, there were a whole bunch of mushrooms in our full sun garden (I think they are ink mushrooms, or something). Ironic, as I love mushrooms, typically (ie. on pizza, in chicken marsala, etc.). In the garden, they are a real pest. This morning I got to dig them out. A little more challenging when their caps start to rise up, but I got the job done.

It used to be that the mushrooms would just latch on to my marigolds. (but this year, it's pill bugs that are eating the marigolds' roots). Now, to our chagrin, the mushrooms are migrating into the middle of the lawn. Glenn wants to just dig up the mushroom section of the yard and start anew, but we'd have to sacrifice the hyacinths, tulips and lawn (as well as the marigolds). I figure I'll just continue to deal with the inconvenience of the mushroom problem.

The pill bugs are a bit more insiduous and seem impossible to control. I read somewhere that they attack the roots of young plants which has put them more on my radar screen to get rid of. At this late date I've sort of given up.

Apparently, we have left out a big ole welcome mat for various garden pests (but I need to do some googling to figure this out for sure). When I dug out the mushrooms, I also got to say hello to a millipede I think (long sort of worm with many legs), a slug, and some other creature that looks kind of like a worm that's rolled up in a ball, and has legs, cream in color. I've sort of ignored live things in the garden as long as my flowers were growing, etc. But the mass infiltration I think might need to be dealt with.

On an odd other note, a few of my bulbs have decided to peak up. Yes, it is September. These are the same phantom bulbs that last year poked up in November, and I think December the year before. I have no idea why their calendar is so majorly off, but am hopeful that since the weather is still warm perhaps we will see whatever flower it bares.

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