My Remodeling Project

by Katy on August 27, 2010 · 13 comments

You think your house was a fixer-upper?!

My husband and I are embarking on a new remodeling project on our 1914 house to add a second bathroom (yay!) and a fifth bedroom (cue blogger looking sheepishly to the side.) We bought our home in 1996, and it was such a fixer-upper that it was a year before we could even move in. Because yes, it was that run down. We have been working on it in fits and spurts ever since. Mostly because 99% of the work has been done by my non-contractor husband.

And in case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s what we’ve done so far:

  • Repaired the coved plaster ceilings in the living room and dining rooms.
  • Tore down the crumbling plaster walls in the living room, dining room and downstairs bedroom.
  • Removed the false ceiling in the downstairs bedroom.
  • Reconfigured the downstairs bedroom to what it used to be.
  • Put in a new bathroom.
  • Redid all the electric and plumbing.
  • Refinished the hardwood floors.
  • Rebuilt the fireplace surround.
  • Replaced all the lighting fixtures, (first with hideous $3 clearance lighting and then slowly with nicer lighting.)
  • Stripped all the downstairs woodwork, and replaced what the previous owners had ripped out.
  • Jacked up the front of the house and had a completely new front porch built.
  • Replaced the nasty kitchen counters with formica.
  • Repainted the kitchen cabinets, although we were able to reuse the hardware, which was inoffensive.
  • Put in new windows in the kitchen and downstairs bedroom where only small ones/none existed.
  • Replaced all the rest of the windows with new wooden double glass, low-E versions.
  • New appliances.
  • Had new brick layed in the fireplace.
  • Addressed all the lead paint issues with an official lead abatement team. This was paid for by a grant from The Portland Development Commission due to elevated lead levels in my younger son.
  • Completely reconfigured one of the upstairs bedrooms to create a hallway to the back bedroom. (It had been that you had to go through this bedroom in order to enter the large unfinished space that is soon to become our new bedroom/bathroom.)
  • Had a cement floor poured for the dirt basement.
  • Replaced the old garage door and front door.
  • Cleaned out the old sump pump that the previous owners had been pouring used motor oil into. Cemented this in.
  • Decommissioned the old oil furnace.
  • Ran a new sewer line under the neighbor’s property to the city sewer line a half block away.
  • Drywalled the only finished room in the basement to create a band practice space for our sons.
  • Put in a new furnace and heat ducts.
  • Built a retaining wall and brick patio in the backyard.
  • Built new cement steps and pathway leading to the front porch.

Is it any wonder that we’re still standing? I am in no way recommending that anyone ever buy a house that needs this much work. We were naive and had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. This house has sucked up our time, energy and money.

The bedroom and bathroom will be our last hurrah, and I feel like we’re going in with eyes wide open which is a new experience. We’re working with an architect, who is very generously donating his design as a thank you for my husband’s years of coaching his son in soccer. (Yay for volunteering!)

Yes, we have a lovely home in a great neighborhood, but at what cost? If I had to do it all over again I would not have bought my house, but that’s kind of a waste of energy to even think about. So we just move forward.

I need to start shopping for supplies, but am waiting until the kids are back in school. I’ll be looking at The Rebuilding Center, the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store, Rejuvenation, Craigslist and traditional sources. I’m being aware to not rush the process, as this has been a sure recipe for disaster in the past.

Looking through the list, I’m sure there are a number of things that I forgot. I don’t understand why we’re not in ruinous financial shape. Although I do understand why we’re not on track to retire at 50.

I will be chronicling our remodel project as it progresses, so check back often to follow our hopefully angst free remodel.

Wish us luck!

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa August 27, 2010 at 10:30 am

Katy- That is an amazing amount of work. You guys are troopers. We also tend to buy houses that need a lot of work (in fact, if it smells of dog urine, my husband goes all doe-eyed with longing). I told him we’re never moving again, even as we are looking at a several-thousand-dollar electrical panel update. Our neighborhood is awesome. And that means more to us right now than a cute house with a perfect layout.


Practical Parsimony August 27, 2010 at 10:32 am

Tearing out plaster is a horrendous job–so messy. Of course, if the guy had not used a chainsaw to get the lathe boards, maybe the house would not have been so dusty days later, like a fog in the house that we had not moved into. Good luck with the remaining work. I, also, have and upstairs bedroom ? that has must be entered before reaching the last bedroom. I always wonder what was up with that.


Susan August 27, 2010 at 10:38 am

I’m impressed. I think your home is beautiful! I would love to see more before and after pictures!


Annie Jones August 27, 2010 at 11:32 am

I love remodeling and home improvement posts. Please include lots of pics! 🙂


robbiekay August 27, 2010 at 1:32 pm

I thought there was no way your house could be more of a money pit than ours…but now that I’ve read the post I concede, yours is, indeed, the bigger money pit! Though at least you have a beautiful Craftsman.


Alane August 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm

Ah the beautiful Craftsman style bungalow. And what is your battle cry? Use it up, make it do or do without? My house sounds just like yours. Only you forgot to mention the hole in the kitchen ceiling from your son helping his dad move a new shower into the second bath. LOL! Your house is a home and someday the family will sit around the dinner table telling the grandkids of all the great adventures you had making that house the perfect home. Chin up. You are doing a great job.


Rebecca August 27, 2010 at 4:00 pm

removing old lath and plaster is the worst! Or home dates to the 1880’s so I feel for you. We are perpetually fixing things, and a simple project is never simple. Just adding one outlet discovered that a majority of the house electrical system is dangerously outdated or just done wrong, now that needs fixing. Just replacing the floor, only have to rip out 7 layers of older flooring to find the original hardwood, and oh yeah, part of the sub floor is rotted out because someone installed the siding incorrectly. Sigh. I feel your pain. But at least your kids are older and more tolerant of the chaos that results from construction.

I think when you do a lot of the work yourself, you have more emotion invested, and it really is a labor of love.


Jupe B August 27, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Yes, to more pictures! I’m in your neighborhood a lot for work (I’m a service electrician), so I know/feel you pain. Nothing like an old Portland house…


Trish August 27, 2010 at 8:46 pm

That’s quite a list—I’m tired just reading it! Looking forward to hearing more about your bathroom project as it progresses. Thanks for the ReStore reminder, too. Somehow, I always forget about them, even though there’s one just a couple of blocks from my husband’s office.


Jen August 28, 2010 at 5:07 am

I often don’t understand buying fixer uppers. My best friend recently bought a Chicago bungalow for the low price of $165,000 and then spent about $200k remodeling it (it needed everything). Now they have spent almost $400k on a house that is now worth maybe $275k? And the neighborhood isn’t great. I wish they had just bought one of the nice $300k houses nearby!


Lisa August 28, 2010 at 9:58 am

I can identify with you! Our little house was begging for help from the moment we saw it. It had sat deserted for nearly a year, and the selling price was too good to pass up. We’ve done all the work ourselves except for the roof, which we had done by professionals. It’s still ongoing after 8 years. Living with construction doesn’t bother me anymore since its current condition is so much better now. By taking our time, we’ve saved a bundle of money because we’ve stumbled across free/salvaged materials along the way. Our stainless kitchen sink was bought from a local Habitat for Humanity store for $5 for example. Of course the footprint of our house is small…less than 750 sq. ft. so the outlay has been decreased from what a larger house would have required. Personally, I have no regrets about buying it….though I DO have plenty of war-story renovation tales. Keep us posted on your work and best wishes!


Katy August 28, 2010 at 10:10 am

I forgot to add that we also completely re-roofed the house. This, we hired out and I think that the guy removed four layers from one side and two from the other. It was a bizarre experience, because the roofer was completely professional, kept to his bid despite some extra issues and his workers were fantastic. This was the only time that hiring a job out was not a nightmare.



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