Restoring…Quality

In my seven years of restoring the Cross House, and writing about the process, I have never directly articulated the following.

When the house was built in 1894, it was a quality house. The 43 stained-glass windows, the fabulous Yale & Towne hardware, the stunning custom-designed column capitals, the beautifully carved main stair, all the framing lumber, and so on.

And then…things changed. Where quality was the driving force in building the house, doing things on-the-cheap became the guide for the next one-hundred-twenty years.

Like the circa-1929 conversion of the house into apartments. While this conversion saved the house, the work was done as inexpensively as possible. The new bathrooms did not have tiled walls, but rather a form of linoleum made to look like tile. Rather than install tubs with shower heads, just tubs were installed. And so on.

The circa-1950 motel conversion was the same. This conversion also likely saved the house but it, too, was all done on the cheap. The many new bathrooms, for example, had plastic wall tiles. Even the new lighting fixtures were really inexpensive.

And there’s nothing wrong with inexpensive conversions.

But a sloppy approach to maintenance can prove disastrous.

As the decades passed, damage from leaking roofs and gutters were covered over with cheap paneling. Rotting wood sashes received quick fixes with caulk and even duct tape. Missing roof tiles were replaced with…I kid you not…bits of vinyl flooring. Damaged radiators were just disconnected. Broken pipes were mended with putty. Missing bits of stained-glass were taped over.

In rural Kansas, such an approach is called farm & ranch work: quick and cheap.

Yet, all this mending and infilling and caulk and duct tape kept the house going just a little bit longer. And, curiously, all this quick and cheap work helped to preserve the house. Had more money been available during the 1929 conversion, I can easily imagine that the work would have been much more drastic. For example, rather than alter the main stair as inexpensively as possible, which was done, it might have been torn out and replaced by a new stair. Oh, the horror. Rather than endlessly mend the forty-three decaying stained-glass windows with tape and caulk, they might have been replaced with new aluminum windows. Oh, the horror.

And that is not a house I would have purchased.

 

Quick and cheap work though cannot continue ad infinitum. At some point decay and problems start to accelerate and an old house will eventually either collapse or reach a state where it is considered unrestorable.

This was the near-state the Cross House was in when I purchased it in 2014. The house suffered from two severe structural issues. Neither had ever been addressed, and one had recently been made spectacularly worse. Both issues would have eventually caused a partial collapse of the house.

In 2014, as I grew ever more intimate with the house, I would experience many many many Holy Shit moments, utterly gobsmacked at another horror directly resulting from decades of quick and cheap fixes. Ditto for 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and now 2021. Just a few months ago I realized that the massive radiator in the dining room will, at some point not too far away, go crashing into the basement due to really stupid alterations to its support.

For much of its existence, the house mightily suffered from termites. The WHY of this though was never addressed. Since 2014, I have been on a steady campaign to resolve the WHY: termites are attracted to wood and water. By removing the latter, the WHY is resolved. So, what was a very wet house in 2014 is now a pretty dry house via repairs to the roof and gutters, installing downspouts (all missing in 2014), replacing rotted wood sills, and so on. Another year will likely pass before all the WHY is resolved. And none of these repairs involve duct tape.

 

My guide all along has been simple: The Cross House was a quality house when built. It should be restored to become, once again, a quality house.

It massively helped receiving two Heritage Trust Grants. And working with Justin these past seven years has been a godsend. But mostly though, I think having a let’s-do-it-right attitude makes all the difference. My long experience in design and architecture has been invaluable as well.

 

I am currently quite excited about the new huge shower, and my plans for the bathroom.  It will be stunning when finished. This though will be the first stunning bathroom created in the house since it was built. When the powder room is restored, it will be of the same quality and beauty as the room was in 1894. Both rooms, once finished, will be comparable to What Was in 1894. And the same cannot be said of any of the work between 1894 and 2014.

When the kitchen was new, it would have been attractive in a simple way. It is obvious though that, as time marched on, the kitchen became ever less attractive. The kitchen in 2014? Disturbing in its shabbiness. It was like something found in a moldering 1970s mobile home rather than a grand house. Thus, I am greatly excited about the plans for the kitchen as the finished room will be…stunning. More importantly, the new kitchen will be comparable to What Was in 1894. As with the new floor. In 1894, the floor was solid maple. Later, inexpensive Linoleum was laid down. Then a layer of cheap vinyl. Then another layer of cheap vinyl. These three later cheap floors have now been removed, and a new solid maple floor has been laid down over the original maple (too damaged to restore). The damaged plaster walls will not be covered over with cheap 4×8 paneling (as things were in 2014) but will be repaired with plaster. The windows have already been restored. The wood wainscoting, caked with paint, as is all the trim in the room, will be stripped down and shellacked, as all was originally.

While I have poured money into the house, money, alone, is not a cure all. Because I am not rich, I have to be very careful about money. And this is why, for example, I tiled and grouted the new shower myself rather than hand this over to a $$$ general contractor. But, the new shower, while not costing a disturbing amount, is vastly superior than what might have been installed during the last century. It is not, for example…

 

…the cheapest shower possible.

 

In 2014, half the main porch columns were missing. All now have been restored or recreated for way less money than one would think, thanks to careful management…and Dr. Doug.

I have seen too many historic homes actually ruined by pots of money. Curiously, poverty is often a better preservationist than money. So, this post is not about money, or the lack thereof. No, this post is about…a certain attitude:

Let’s-do-it-right.

Many times, I have written about how I simply do not enjoy doing sloppy work. It drains the life out of me. Conversely, doing good work fuels me, no matter that it takes more time and effort. By doing good work 99.9% of the time, I am being endlessly being fueled.

 

I have also written previously about the importance of crispy, a hallmark of quality work. When the Cross House was new its exterior would have been, well, crispy. But decades of quick fixes, sloppy paint jobs, decaying windows, and lost bits, all contributed to the house looking, well, out-of-focus. This is how most historic homes look after a century.

Today though, the original crispness of the Cross House is now, largely, back. And in the following years I look forward to ever increasing the crispy factor.

 

In 2014, I posted about this window trim. This was the top of the center tower window. It looks really cruddy, right? It is the opposite of crispy.

 

Today? It is as it was in 1894: crispy. By repeating such effort along every square foot of the exterior, slowly, bit-by-bit, crispiness re-emerges. And…drum roll, please…SQUEE!!!!!!!!

 

In 2014, all the windows looked pretty much like this. This is SO not crispy.

 

The same window, after. The very definition of crispy. Note how the paint on the glass is razor straight. Multiply this window by a great many now also restored, and that = a lot of crispiness.

 

Basement windows are often ignored. This is how one basement window at the Cross House looked in 2014. This is a great affront to crispiness.

 

The same window, 2018. The sash is original. The glass is new. All the AC lines were buried.

 

Something I am not doing?

Making the Cross House, well, more than it was in 1894.

I am not, for example, adding elaborate ceiling medallions. Because the house never had any. I am not adding crown molding. Because the house never had any. I am though replacing all the picture rail, which the house did have (all removed circa-1950).

I am also not knocking down walls to create open plans. I am not punching 3,953 can lights into all the ceilings.

Sometimes, what we do not do can be as important as what we do do.

 

in summation, this post articulates what I am most proud of regarding the long saga of restoring the Cross House: Making a high-quality house…high-quality again.

 

 

 

30 Comments

  1. Arkay on June 20, 2021 at 12:04 pm

    I’m a huge fan of quality over quantity or speed or convenience. The Cross House is blessed by its present owner.

  2. Annette on June 20, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    And it’s this attitude that makes me such a fan of your blog Ross. It’s been such a pleasure watching you slowly and meticulously restoring Cross House with your patented baby steps method. Just focussing on getting the job at hand done properly has bought Cross House back from the brink of ruin and for some reason the world always feels a little better because of it.

  3. Patsy Douma on June 20, 2021 at 2:02 pm

    So proud of you’re progress ,if something is worth doing it is worth doing well.When this COVID is under control I hope to make a trip south to come and see it. Patsy from 🇨🇦🍁

    • ColleenYukon on June 20, 2021 at 9:10 pm

      Hello, fellow Canadian. 🙂

      • Patsy Douma on June 21, 2021 at 9:18 am

        Hello where from? Me Carman M B

  4. tiffaney jewel on June 20, 2021 at 2:19 pm

    Good god, I hate can lights. Even in a new house, I hate can lights. Seeing people put them in historical homes just crushes my soul.

  5. Julie on June 20, 2021 at 2:59 pm

    My husband and I take the same approach. Fix it correctly! And while our house is very small, it had virtually ALL the problems you list, except termites (we had ants instead).

    Our house started out as a one room pioneer cabin, built in 1877 by a Civil War vet, out of old growth fir cut right here, and sawn in the mill down the street. In 1900ish, it was split into two rooms, and a large addition was built, making it 700 sq. ft., up from 300 sq. ft.

    The addition was plank framed. Bottom sill, top plate, with 1×12 fir planks vertically placed and nailed to both. Awesome, right? Yeah, it would have been, if they had put it on a decent foundation, or put a retaining wall and drain on the north and east sides, but they didn’t.

    So the NW corner of the house started sinking. Dramatically.

    Then, in 1962, The Columbus Day Storm came through, and toppled trees onto the house. On the NW corner. Since this occurred in October, repairs had to be made, and FAST. Therefore, things were NOT done right. But I am grateful they did something, or the house wouldn’t be here at all.

    How bad was the sinking? The NW corner is a full EIGHT INCHES lower than it should be.

    Over the following 40 years, maintenance was ummm…. interesting. Some of the windows looked as bad as yours! (One was covered in tar paper. Another had a screen so rusty, the rust stained the window glass) Walls were covered in fiberboard and layers of wallpaper. Floors were covered in layers of plywood, fiberboard, linoleum, vinyl, and indoor/outdoor carpet. The roof around one chimney leaked for decades.

    I bought the place in 2001, after it had been rented for two years while the family decided what to do with the house after mom/grandma died. The only other potential buyer wanted to bulldoze the house and put in a double-wide. *shudder* After assuring them this would never happen, (and paying cash) I moved in. I’ve been working ever since.

    I am now rebuilding the last room in the house, after insulating the attic for storage, sheeting, insulating, and installing a window in the tiny upstairs, rebuilding the service porch, then the pantry, bathroom, kitchen, and living room.

    I’ve also gotten 13 acres in useable shape, with landscaping, a veggie garden, fenced pastures, a glorious chicken house, and a gorgeous spring-fed pond. Also on the property isn’t a carriage house, but the School Marm’s House from the old school down the road, which was rebuilt and is now used for my horse tack.

    Through all of this, we have strived to do things right. Yeah, we’ve made some mistakes, but we’ve learned a lot. Sometimes it’s been tough due to money concerns, but we’ve managed. And it makes me so damned happy to know that this adorable, quirky, crooked little house will be here for years to come, and will be handed down to my kids and grandkids to continue enjoying.

    So yeah, I get what you are saying, even if it’s on a much smaller scale. But then, I’m smaller than you! *grin*

    Your blog is a constant inspiration to me. I LOVE that you take the time to do things right. I love that you HAVE a blog, and make time for that too. And I love that your blog not only shows your progress on the house, but also the progress you have made as a person. And who doesn’t love your sense of humor?!?! Hint: No one who matters.

    Keep on keeping on! (I will too!)

    • mlaiuppa on June 21, 2021 at 1:28 am

      Eight inches? Damn.

      I fear for the future of my house, no matter the condition. Land in San Diego, CA is expensive and the poorer neighborhoods are cheap by the square foot. More and more I see older buildings being bulldozed so developers can make a buck. The United Methodist Children’s Thrift Store (classic mid century modern building) closed and is empty. I don’t know if they just rented the space and it will become something else or if it was sold and one day I’ll drive by and see a vacant lot of rubble. I guess the school Marm’s house was smaller and in worse shape than the original. I hope the horses appreciate it.

      I’m putting my house in a trust so that it will be income property and will be leaving it to a trusted friend. She will then either receive the income, live in it or hopefully also put it in trust and see that it isn’t torn down to make way for cheap apartments or condos. I have 60% of the parcel so my lot is a bit bigger and goes from the street to the alley. I have a detached two car garage and the house is 1275 square feet with a good sized attic. Yes it isn’t modern. The bathroom is bigger than my parent’s 60’s ranch but the kitchen is small. It isn’t entirely open concept but there is a large opening between the living room and dining room that makes it almost open concept. I suppose the wall could be removed between the kitchen and dining room but I would rather have the wall space for art and a sideboard and have the ability to close the pocket door and hide the dirty dishes after a dinner party.

      13 acres is a lot to maintain but offers a lot. Pasture land and garden space. Having a spring fed pond is the best. Do you also own the spring and get your water from there?

      • Julie on June 21, 2021 at 7:54 am

        Yeah, 13 acres is a lot to take care of, and we’ve begun replacing all of our wire field fence with galvanized cattle panels. MUCH less work looking to the future. I wish I had thought of it 20 years ago!

        We have two springs, and own water rights to both. One spring is small and feeds the pond, the other is huge and supplies the house and the school next door. And used to supply the grange hall and two more houses! Awesome, very well maintained spring. We’re very lucky.

  6. mlaiuppa on June 20, 2021 at 3:18 pm

    I had some of that fake tile board in my bathroom and kitchen too. From a 1949 remodel. I replaced it with tile when I revived both rooms. Didn’t really remodel as nothing was replaced or changed much except the floors and walls.

    The nice thing about the cheap conversions is they are often very easy to remove. But there is nothing easy or cheap about lack of maintenance. Maintenance can keep a cheaply made house in top shape but lack of maintenance can destroy the best built building.

    There is a lot to be said for doing work yourself. Rarely when you hire people do they take the care an owner would. If I had contracted out my bathroom I would have ended up with a floor and wall of cheap white 4×4 tile from Home Depot. While there is some on the walls, it is interspersed with black 4x4s and white and black 2x2s and some silver 1x1s. I also cut some opaque stained glass the color of the counters in those sizes to scatter throughout the wall tile. I bordered it with black edging and put a line of black trim tile through the middle to extend the chair rail from the other walls through the shower area. No contractor would take that kind of care and time. I even built some boxes into the wall, a low one at tub height and a higher one at shower height and tiled them so that I could put bottles of soap and shampoo in them for convenience. I did the floor the same way, only with 2×2 and 1×1 tile. I took my time and am very pleased with the result. Sometimes if you want a job done right you have to do it yourself. Especially if you have the skill or can learn the skill to do it.

    When I was looking for a house, on a limited budget, I looked for one that had not been bastardized too much. And boy, I saw plenty of cheap slapdash junk and bad maintenance/repairs. A copper line from a water heater connected directly to galvanized and a huge ball of crap at the connection because they were directly connected. An entire bathroom wall sagging away because tile was attached to plaster and there was a water problem behind the wall. Over and over again, aluminum or vinyl windows replaced in Spanish Revival or Craftsman homes. I finally found a home with minimal damage because it had been lived in by the original owners for 60 years and then rented to one couple. It was awful but nothing that couldn’t be fixed. Vinyl shutters removed, carpet ripped up, sash cords and weights repaired, linoleum removed and floors and walls tiled. I haven’t done anything to the cabinets except to remove one to put in a small dishwasher. It even has the sink from 1949 and the counter tile.

    I picked up a trick from watching a renovation show. When you remove linoleum and there is some sort of tar underneath, put down newspapers and then pour hot water on it and let it sit for a few hours. Apparently the tar then adheres to the newspaper and can be removed. Wish I had known about that when I did my bathroom. I might have original wood floors in there instead of putting down tile. Same with the kitchen. But I’m OK with what I did. It looks period to the house and I bought upscale tile for the kitchen and bathroom floors.

    I like to think my house is crispier now than it was when I bought it. The outside paint job certainly is.

    I would add one more caveat to “Let’s do it right.” Sometimes if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.

  7. Bethany on June 20, 2021 at 3:45 pm

    Well said. Carry on!

  8. Dan Goodall-Williams on June 20, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    Great post Ross. You are the right person for the house. Perhaps Cody shares the same sentiment.

  9. Sandra Diane Lee on June 20, 2021 at 5:10 pm

    You are such a wonderful steward for the Cross House!

  10. Laurie L Weber on June 20, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    So eloquently put! My house is only from 1963, but upon entering into a large entry way, the first thing you see is the (2) corner glass-front cabinets in the dining room! Saw them and knew I had to have the house! Was a 60’s
    time-capsule, complete with a mint green 1/2 bath, pink full bath, and ‘dick van dyke show’ bedroom (twin beds), and painted puke green on outside! Sometimes I just have to choose what to ’embrace’! And the weirdest 2nd bedroom every! You walk through it with 2/3 on 1 side and 1/3 on the other, with hallways on each end! But, I got a laundry room (which they used as a tiny bedroom???) with a short hall and almost 10 feet of shelves, a large master bedroom with 2 walk-in closets, and a full basement every plumber, electrician, and hvac tech have raved about! Only 1 of the many reasons I love your blog – it inspires me, entertains me, and just makes me happy to see a notice in my e-mail! Thank you for being you! Hugs! 🙂

    • mlaiuppa on June 21, 2021 at 2:01 am

      You’ve just sorta described my parent’s house, sans the china cabinets. There was pink stucco on the outside. When they added on they stuccoed over it with green, painted the trim dark green and put green aluminum siding on the addition. They still have the original spring green bathtub but the time has been replaced and it’s wallpapered now. I don’t remember the color of the other bathroom as it was redone so long ago. It’s brown and orange now so maybe late 70s/early 80s. They did the kitchen too. The cabinets are falling apart so the kitchen will need to be redone.

      Should I ever inherit that house I plan to remove the wall between the two small bedrooms and seal off that bathroom’s door to the hallway and open it to the newly expanded bedroom and make it an en suite master bath. The middle wall had the closets for each bedroom so I would put one long closet along the wall adjacent to the bathroom. It would effectively make the room 12×22. There are still four other bedrooms in the house, an original small one and a master with en suite upstairs, plus a bedroom with a half bath. They added out and up so they doubled the square footage of the house. The only real remaining thing that dates the house is the original brick fireplace which isn’t that bad. What is bad is the paneling. My Dad hates to paint so when the addition was put on all of it was covered in paneling, not drywall. So that will need to be addressed as well.

      That bedroom with the hallway running through it either wasn’t a bedroom or they added on to the house stupidly, cutting a door on the other side and continuing the hallway. Either way, it’s not a bedroom any more. More like a den on one side and an office on the other. You could always finish off that basement with another bathroom, bedroom and den or something.

      I wouldn’t be so quick to get rid of those period bathrooms. Sure, update the fixtures but if the tile, tub and shower are in good shape you might want to just go with them and leave as is. I did with my bathroom. (Of course I also have a porcelain on cast iron bathtub that is plenty large and in pristine condition.) It has the built in place vanity with an oblong sort of rectangular sink and a green counter with black edges. Was’t my first choice but I went with it rather than fight it and now I really like it. I have the original built in medicine cabinet too. I replaced the window glass with cross threaded glass for privacy so I wouldn’t need curtains and it really brightened the room. Try flamingoes in that pink bathroom with black accent accessories. Some funky light fixtures and it might really start to sing to you. Flamingos in Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses.

      I am always very careful not to do anything trendy. Because it quickly becomes dated. Like Avocado green or Harvest gold appliances. Remember the tumbled marble that was all the rage about a decade or two ago? I’ll bet people are rapidly tearing that mistake out. I am not a believer in redoing your bathroom and kitchen every ten years because it’s dated. It’s why I kept my kitchen and bathroom true to it’s period. They’re both 1949 (along with the master bedroom added on same year). The rest of the house is 1922 and I’ve kept it as well. I have vintage furniture and use rollershades in the living room and one bedroom. I did add built ins that should have been original and weren’t. No one can tell. Anyone that comes to the house thinks they are original. The one in the dining room bay window was necessary to hide a bad patch of flooring when they added the bay window. Instead of weaving in the floor they just added it with a straight seem across. The built in sideboard/china cabinet hides the floor and gives me a nice shelf in front of the entire window. Someday I am going to take out the plain glass I put in the doors and put in a very simple stained glass design. Maybe just a simple diamond bevel in the middle of each door.

      I hate that I couldn’t get a white refrigerator and microwave for my kitchen. Stainless steel is going to suck.

      • Laurie L Weber on June 21, 2021 at 5:27 pm

        Wow! You make me tired! I was lucky in that the original owner (I’m only the 2nd) chose white appliances and bath fixtures. I still have the original huge stove with double ovens and drawer underneath. Think 1 burner would come out and act as a deep fryer? Never tried it. Instructions I have are more like a ad brochure and haven’t looked for one in a while. All the windows had white blinds – reminded me of the ones on the farm I grew up on = love them, but have to investigate how to replace some cording. The green bathroom had green marble(ish) looking beadboard – plan on repainting it royal blue, and have rubber ducky border to match the knobs on long sink base. Pink bath has pink tile around entire tub/shower – even ceiling. Then pink tile up all walls approx 4′. Accent tile top has touch of green in it. Has a built to fit desk with 6 drawers opposite toilet. Found awesome knobs with green and pink on them! Replaced the sink to 1 with a base for storage (other one had the 2 separate faucets for hot and cold which I know are charming, but irritating. Both have built in medicine cabinet with adjustable glass shelves. Each had their respective color in tile floor, but no more. Overload! Flamingo idea sounds cute, but not me. Sorry. Weird 2nd bedroom, is my sewing room/office. (They had a double bed coming out from the small section so you had to walk around it to other door! (The house plan is the same as one they had previously in another state, but moved back here near relatives after husband lost eye sight, so he could get around good). Thx! Sorry Ross – looks like we’re turning your blog into a gab session! :/ 🙂

        • mlaiuppa on June 21, 2021 at 7:08 pm

          I’ve got a vintage O’Keefe and Merritt I got for a bargain at a local thrift shop. $175 and they even delivered it and brought it in and set it in place. Bought an English Art Deco sideboard from them too. My stove is my age and I do have a manual for it. Essential as I’ve had to relight the pilot more than once. I have four burners with a griddle in the middle. Below is one oven and a broiler drawer. On the other side is just storage (and the switch to light the pilot.) I love it. It’s worth searching out a proper manual and learning all your stove can do. If you cook to any degree, you may be pleasantly surprised. My pilot stays on all the time, heating the oven just enough to make it perfect for rising bread. I also have a nice simmer plate for two of the burners. And I can still get replacement parts for it.

          If I ever remodeled my parent’s kitchen I would eliminate a cabinet and bring in a gas line from the garage on the other side of the wall. Then I would buy a vintage O’Keefe and Merritt Town and Country stove. (About $10,000 refurbished). Two ovens, two broilers, storage, burners and griddle. It’s a monster but there is a wall perfect for it in my parent’s house. The age wouldn’t be that far off as their house was built in 1959. I’d also put in an apron front farm sink and a Dishmaster faucet. Counter depth refrigerator as the kitchen is a bit small. Not as small as mine but small by current standards.

          Built in vanity in the bathroom? Awesome! Yes, you go with that pink with a touch of green. I hear you about the two faucets. I replaced one of those two faucet sinks in my garage with a pedestal sink and a new faucet fixture. One spout but separate hot and cold handles. It’s the garage so I usually use just cold for washing up after gardening. I really detest those single handle faucets.

          Blinds can be restrung if you are patient and can find the right cording.

  11. Jeannie on June 20, 2021 at 8:05 pm

    It was wonderful to “hear” you talk about the house today Ross. I have really missed you. Hope all is well.

  12. Mike on June 21, 2021 at 9:02 am

    I echo Jeannie’s comment, I am glad to see you making an effort to move forward in a positive way; we have all been concerned for you over the past several weeks. You have created quite the community here, Ross… People from all walks of life, from all over the world…united and coming together to watch as a really nice guy with a big heart restores an old house in Kansas, while teaching us all lessons about things that really matter…kindness, compassion, empathy…and the importance of crispness 🙂

    • Dan Goodall-Williams on June 21, 2021 at 12:05 pm

      Very well said. And quite an achievement in life, I say.

    • Laurie L Weber on June 21, 2021 at 5:28 pm

      I agree, well said! 🙂

  13. Arkay on June 21, 2021 at 1:30 pm

    Our house dates from 1984, so it’s not old, just well-used. It was definitely a fixer-upper when we bought it in 2010, and we’ve been fixing ever since. While I’m willing to take on all kinds of DIY projects, we did leave the electricity and plumbing to the experts.

    The first two electricians to look at it blinked, said something under their breath, and left, never to return. The next one saw the challenge and met it.

    The master plumber bought a new fishing boat just from repairing the bizarre plumbing over the years. Thankfully, we’ve not needed to add plumbing, just fix what’s already here.

    The stonemason easily fixed the limestone issues, and we’ve been able to keep the minor issues under control ourselves since.

    We’ve sealed the leaks in our separate garage, and are now repairing the water damage, then will put a mini split in the room there we use for my sewing and crafts, and put a window where the current wall-mounted air conditioner/heater is. Meanwhile, we need to fix whatever’s wrong with the overhead lights, which turn on only when they feel like it. I’m hoping it’s just a loose wire. We’re on a first-name basis with our electrician, and that’s getting old…

    In the future, the house laundry room/pantry needs a full makeover. It started off as a storage room with a toilet, which was removed long before we bought the place. The walls are OSB, the plumbing needs updating, and the room definitely needs better storage and flow. We did put new LED lights in place of the old ceiling lights, and they are amazingly bright. I think they will be going into the garage sewing room, too, as soon as we figure out the electrical issue there.

    Our big project for this year is adding solar panels and a battery backup. After the Coldpocalypse in Feb, we realized we could have a similar situation in the heat of summer, which would destroy our freezers full of food and my refrigerated medications. We learned that just having solar panels isn’t sufficient; as they only work during the day. At night, one is on the local power, and if it’s off, so are we. So we went for enough battery power to keep the lights, refrigerators and freezers fully functioning during a power outage. We can add more batteries as needed. Not a DIY project, but very necessary.

    Some of the other projects have to wait until wood prices go back down. Sigh. Thankfully, the house is in pretty good shape now, so most of our DIY projects are not essential, just useful or adds to the overall attraction of a custom house on a hill above a beautiful lake. Our five acres we pretty much leave alone, only mowing it once a year so the wildflower seeds can scatter and bloom from March through November, and the monarch butterflies, hummingbirds and assorted other wildlife have something to eat.

    Reading Ross’ blog keeps us inspired to keep going.

    • Laurie L Weber on June 21, 2021 at 5:30 pm

      What a spot! It never ceases to amaze me how crappy things are built these days. So sad. Another reason to love Ross, the Cross House, and his wonderful reader’s experiences. Thx. 🙂

    • mlaiuppa on June 21, 2021 at 7:24 pm

      You probably hit the trifecta of bad building codes, aluminum wiring, plastic pipes and maybe even the wrong plastic for the gas line. So many houses of that vintage have to be entirely replumbed or rewired due to materials that were code at the time and then found to be dangerous or just lousy. Have you checked to make sure you have enough power coming in to the house? I had to have my meter replaced and a new panel when the solar went in as I didn’t have 220 or enough breakers. When the house was remodeled in 1949 I think they kept the fuses. I used to have my lights flicker. Once it was upgraded no more problems with electrical.

      I considered adding a battery to the garage. Even called a company about it. But even with a sale and government tax breaks it was still $10,000 I didn’t have so not yet. My current plan is grandfathered in with the local utility until 2027 so I’ve still got a few years to decide what to do.

      If I could I would add a wind turbine or two so I could generate at night as well.

      I’m also waiting for lumber prices to come down.

      • Arkay on June 22, 2021 at 2:47 pm

        Fortunately, what was on the truck was not aluminum wiring. It’s all copper, just wired in strange sequences that had to be fixed. Quite the kabuki dance, figuring out what was on which circuit, fixing it, and then finally writing them down on the circuit breaker panel. We did add some outlets where there had been none, upgraded for CFI outlets inside and outside, and added two 50 amp RV power connections where there had only been a 15 and a 30 amp. The place came with three RV electrical hookups and we added one more, so all our RVing friends can show up and our RV can stay in place.

        We had the meter replaced, and will replace it again when the solar connection is up. The amount of power coming in is just fine. The delay in our solar installation is because there’s a backlog of orders for batteries. We’d thought about a wind turbine, but the winds tend to die off at sunset, so we’d still need batteries. Ergo, just go with solar for now.

        The sewer lines were definitely what was on the truck, not what should have been installed. Replacing too thin PVC pipe from house to septic definitely earned our plumber his new boat.

        Also down the road we’ll be replacing the roof with metal. The sun here is so brutal on composite shingles that they never, ever last as long as the rating claims. A metal roof stands up to the hailstorms and high daytime winds we’re subject to, and we’ll never have to do anything further with the roof.

        The joys of home ownership…

        • Arkay on June 22, 2021 at 2:54 pm

          Just reread your comment, mlaiuppa, and saw the comment about gas lines. How I wish we had gas. Sigh.

          We do have a 200 gal propane tank that powers the pool heater. It did, until the February cold utterly killed the pool heater. That’s another thing we’ll have to replace, but it’s not on our critical list (and we can’t get one until after July, anyway, since most pool supply companies are limiting what comes into Texas so the rest of the country has product, too). That line is heavy copper. We would like to bring propane into the kitchen for the stove, eventually, but for now, we’ll be fine if the power goes out again, what with a smoker, grill, and griddle on the porch, a cooking firepit, and a three-burner propane stove in the RV.

  14. Christine on June 21, 2021 at 1:59 pm

    Ross, Thank you for the update. Yes, crispiness is important. It’s because of YOU that the house is saved and will be the grand dame it once was. “Let’s Do it Right” should be printed on t-shirts and sold as a CROSS house fundraiser!
    I appreciate that you’re being conscientious about what is RIGHT in and for the house. I realize I have missed reading your house posts. It’s swell hearing your voice again. This spring has been a struggle for sure. Speaking from personal experience, pulling oneself out of a funk can be such a challenge. I’m glad to see that you’re applying your “Babysteps” method to that too. Doing one small thing on a regular basis is a good plan to get one’s self to feeling better.
    Good to hear from you again. You’re an inspiration and a motivation for me. Thank you for sharing your authentic self with us.

    • Arkay on June 22, 2021 at 2:57 pm

      “Let’s Do It Right” reminds me of Mike Holmes, a Toronto-area builder. He fixes what other people have utterly buggered, and his motto is “Make It Right.”

      I bet he’d be thoroughly impressed with how Ross and compatriots are making the Cross House right.

      • Laurie L Weber on June 22, 2021 at 4:53 pm

        I’ve heard of him and seen him on tv. I agree with you! “)

  15. Devyn (Our Philly Row) on June 22, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    Love this post Ross…. It rings true with our house. It was a rental for the majority of the 20th century and through sheer neglect, most of the 19th century interior remains 75+% intact (save for the 1980s kitchen and bathroom). While we have already dealt with many structural issues and still have a few to go, I am grateful that it was not gutted and sheet-rocked within an inch of its life like so many of my neighbors. Structural issues can be resolved, but interior detail is much harder to replicate in an authentic way.

    As for that super cheap shower… I busted out laughing when I saw the picture because I will be taking delivery and installing that exact shower as a temporary shower for my elderly father who will be living with us for a few months (he cannot climb the stairs to our shower). It will fit perfectly in a spot on the main floor and once he has moved on, I can remove it and sell or give it away.

    As always, look forward to seeing your updates.

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