Friday, February 26, 2016

schoolhouse update

As usual, let's just skip the acknowledgment of how long it's been and just get right back into it...

We've been really busy, just not busy taking pictures since we've been finishing up after dark.  With the spectacular weather we've finally hit our stride with the schoolhouse (only 3 years into the project).  After all the hair-pulling about how best to use the original materials it's wonderous that things are actually going exactly to plan, and the siding is about 80% up.  I had intended to take some pictures this morning, but naturally everything's covered in snow again.  The most exciting development however is that we'll be laying the brick floor next week.

Laying the floor requires excavating some of the gravel we put down as a temporary floor, then laying and leveling the layers of stone and sand.  Given that neither of us are back in shape after babies and surgeries, we'll be happily paying our neighbor who did the foundation to do the heavy lifting for us.  We'll save money buying the stone by the truckload, which means our driveway will get a much needed refresh as well.  

As usual, one of the most satisfying parts of getting this done will be getting materials out of the way for good.  In this case, the bricks are the quintessential hard yellow brick Pittsburgh is known for - they and the sandstone came from a demolished mansion that used to stand behind us.  Previous owners dragged everything to the property line, where they proceeded to sink deep into the soil and get covered with decades of leaves.  Some of the piles are now sunk two feet down, and even with the warm days the most we can get out is the topmost layer that's melted, and then we need to wait another warm day or two for the next layer to melt....  We're hopeful that this project will use the majority of the brick (we'll still have a considerable amount of red brick and sandstone to contend with however) so that clean up and landscaping can begin this year.  

Another highlight of this project?  It'll mean that as soon as the floor is in, the huge yellow carport can go, although I dread the mudpit it will leave behind (and the malamute that will find the mud utterly delightful).  

And as an aside, I'm finding it easier to post real-time updates on instagram, so if anyone would like to follow along there you can head to

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

plain jane firebox

We're remarkably lucky that many of our beautiful firebacks and inserts have survived the years intact, especially given the abuse that so much of the house has gone through.  We have a few that are plain brick though, and it's unclear if they have missing elements, or were plain to begin with.  One of these plain ones is in the nursery.  There had been significant water infiltration from the degraded chimneys, and this led to the flaking paint and efflorescence in the firebox.

The brown is masonite covering the flue,
I wasn't brave enough to take it off...
It was a surprisingly straightforward task (albeit filthy) to clean up the mess of paint, brick and mortar dust, and soot (so much soot in this house, every task, soot).  Everything got a thorough scrub with a nylon brush, and a good vacuum.  Then a few coats of rustoleum high heat black paint.  The paint went on thin, and seemed to penetrate and seal the questionable sections quite well.  This was always a gas burning fireplace, and we reran a gas line to the area (although not back into the firebox) when we ran the gas line to the dryer.  Someday we hope to install a modern gas insert, and the paint should hold up just fine to occasional use.

You may be wondering what the writing on the brick is...  

It says Reese Hammond and Co. Bolivar PA.  While the company was incorporated in 1898, initially causing me great confusion, it existed with Reese and Hammond as partners in the 1870's.

a Reese and Hammond firebrick, not mine...
the Reese Hammond brickworks
 The room is creeping towards completion, with paint touchups, quarter round and such waiting to get done, as well as stove black on the rusty iron surround (unless someone has a more exciting suggestion).  The tile is a long term project. I keep hoping to find matching tiles, and while I've seen the flower border before, I've never seen it in the odd olive color.  Maybe at some point I'll get desperate enough to integrate another pattern, but it's only been 5 years, I have more patience than that left in me...