A New Start, Another Old House… 

My last entry was a few months ago, mulling over possibly purchasing a gorgeous turn-of-the-century farmhouse not far from my home in Mooresville. I wrote the owner and never heard back, so I let the house search go for awhile. 
And too, I wasn’t at all sure of my financial ability to purchase a new house, anyway. But that’s not correct. I’m no longer an “I” but a “we.” My girlfriend Gerri and I have solidified our relationship over the past couple of years into something quite permanent indeed. Even so, owning a home for ourselves seemed to be a dream, something to think about every so often, but maybe it would just be a dream. 

And one day in early May I saw an email update from an online real estate search site, Zillow, showing a decent-looking home in our price range and close to town. Long story short, we applied for approval and were immediately pre-approved. The bad news, the house was already under contract by the time We got to see it. And it was in rough shape, anyway. 

But we were buoyed by the sudden revelation we were pre-approved. I pulled out my computer and searched my favorited homes to see what was still available. My eye was continually drawn to a Craftsman bungalow in the heart of Kannapolis, just 15 miles away. I had saved the home as a “favorite” some months back, appreciating its Craftsman features and tasteful updates. I showed it to Gerri and we both liked it, a lot. We toured it the next day and though it was a bit more than I wanted to pay, we found out then the sellers had reduced the price by $10,000. 

It is sufficient to say we both fell in love with the house. The floors were straight and true, none of the sagging and settling common to many older homes. It had just undergone a major facelift and every surface was gleaming and shiny. The major systems, electrical, HVAC and plumbing were all brand new. It looked like a new house. In short, in two days we had an offer in place and it was countered in a small detail or two and we accepted the counter-offer. 

  

The house is on a quiet, tree lined street in the heart of Kannapolis, NC. It was built in 1930 and sits on a large lot. There are two pecan trees and two peach trees out back. I’ll let the pics tell the story… 

  
   
               
The house is 1372 square feet, which doesn’t count the upstairs. That would make it 1712 square feet of HLA (heated living area) once heat and AC are routed there. 

Though it has been renovated, there are many changes I would like to change over time, including adding a second bathroom and a master bedroom closet. And turning those upstairs rooms into functional bedrooms, instantly adding value to the home. 

We close on Monday, June 22, 2015, and the ride begins! 

  

Making a Contact

My last entry a few days ago contained mention of an old farmhouse I’ve had my eye on for over a year now. I pass by it at least a couple times per month, always wondering who owns it and what the story is behind it. I stopped to shoot a few pictures to share in the previous entry to point out my tastes in old houses.

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Even as I was writing, the wheels started turning. My sleep became erratic. I knew I wasn’t going to rest until I got the bottom of the mystery.

Friday morning, I drove out to see my great-uncle Glenn. He knows everyone around, and he thought he knew who the owner was, but wasn’t entirely sure. But a cousin of mine lives just right down the road from the old house and her husband Johnny runs a big farm there. As luck would have it, Johnny was unloading a dump truck load of seed corn when I stopped by. He knew immediately which house I was talking about and who the owner was. I started to go then, but for some reason I decided to wait, and think it over. I needed to reflect on what I should say.

The house wasn’t for sale, so how do you approach someone and ask if they’d be interested in selling, without the conversation turning into a gruff “No, now get out of here!!”?  Well, sometimes, that’s just going to happen. I had to be careful to exhibit the right amount of interest. Not too much, or they’d likely ask too much money, but not disinterested, either, or they wouldn’t care about selling.

I went back Saturday afternoon and there was no one home at the owner’s house. I went back to the old house down the road and found the grass freshly mowed. Obviously, I’d just missed him. I decided to hang out and shoot a few more pictures. I was just finishing when I heard the clatter of a diesel engine and saw a tractor pull in and stop. A man hopped down and I asked if his name was Ralph (the owner’s name). He was, and shook my hand and I introduced myself and simply said I was interested in the house and wanted to know if he’d ever considered selling it.

We had a very pleasant conversation, over an hour, and he isn’t the only owner, ownership is divided among five members of the family. And it wasn’t clear whether they’d have interest in selling at all. The contents of the deceased owners were still inside and the family wasn’t sure what to do with all that. They didn’t have room in their homes for all of it, but apparently they weren’t ready to sell the belongings, either.

Ralph agreed, the house was reaching the point of needing serious attention. I got the overall impression he might be very willing to consider it, the house plus about a third to a half acre. But it would take getting a consensus from all five owners, plus some kind of disposition in place for the old furniture and belongings inside. He mentioned there had just been two break-ins recently, and some high value furniture items were stolen.

My guess is that is a plus in my favor. When a house has been targeted like that, it is often revisited and more things stolen. Hopefully, that might be an impetus for them to consider disposition of the property. It is not a high-crime area at all, just rural and secluded.

So, I wrote a nice letter today, thanking him for his time and hospitality in speaking with me about the house. I reiterated my desire to place a fair-market offer on the house, sometime after the first of the year, and I would work with them to alleviate any concerns they might have. I will mail it tomorrow afternoon and see what happens.

Likely, nothing will. But like my father always said (didn’t everyone’s father?), “The worst that can happen is they say no.”

For now, I wait and see…

Planning Time

I restarted this blog yesterday, indicating it was a hiatus time for me, no longer owning the house I poured blood, sweat and tears into. I’m helping take care of my grandmother, living in a small, cute rental beside her. But my girlfriend and I are making plans to buy our own place.

That really opens up the doors labeled “Possibility.” It also opens a fair number of cans of worms as well.

I absolutely adore and love my girlfriend. She’s smart, funny, keeps me smiling and laughing, and I honestly couldn’t have picked a better person.

But while we see eye-to-eye on most things, she isn’t a fan of old. Or, a better way of saying it, she doesn’t want a project. Whether new or old, she wants it to be more or less move-in ready, minor upgrades such as countertops or faucets acceptable. Me? I’m up for a total gut job, putting in new walls, insulation, refinishing floors and such. Somewhere there is a middle ground, we just have to find it.

But that doesn’t mean any old house will do. I am not a fan of plain brick ranch homes, for example. They look boxy, unadorned and often without the kind of character that I appreciate. I’m glad my better half agrees on this. There are some fantastic ranch designs, however, that aren’t plain and boxy. They are just above our price range, for the most part.

So, what do I like?

I’m a fan of the turn-of-the-century Victorian designs and early century Craftsman designs. They often have peaks and gables that add interest and character to the roof line, and their eclectic flow and tall ceilings give the houses a sense of large size, even when they aren’t very big at all.

Here is a quintessential, archetypical Victorian design that actually has some elements of Craftsman design, as well.

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Notice the roof lines and the dormer window. And the large pillars on the porch. This is a very well-built country farmhouse not far from where I live.

More views:

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The house is unoccupied and has been for many years. The front door is padlocked. Someone is obviously mowing the grass, but no real care is being given the the house. The front porch has a place where the roof is leaking badly and the porch ceiling roof has rotted. Still, the house isn’t sagging or badly damaged in any way the I can see. Even the awesome chimneys look to be in great shape.

It is not for sale, sadly. But I’m hoping that may change…

In short, this is a hunkering down, taking stock and planning time. What will the budget be? How much can we afford? What do we want?

A lot of possibilities…

Hiatus Time

I haven’t updated this blog in quite a while, so I thought I’d better do that. First, the big news: I moved. A lot of reasons but my grandmother turned 100 last year and I felt the need to be closer to her. With no job anymore (I’m on disability) I decided it was time to move. I finished up the remaining few details and finally the house was sold.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Buying that house on my own, with no help from anyone, had been a personal triumph for me. I had lost a previous home due to my father’s business going under and having to rebuild my credit from scratch. So it really meant a lot that I was able to make the purchase and have a roof over my head. In the end, however, family and other concerns won out.

And yes, I lost a lot of money. One thing that surprised me was how much the crash had devalued my property. Comps were misleading: I had tax values but very few recent sales to compare it to. So instead of breaking even I lost money. It’s hard to be too pessimistic when everyone else is in the same boat, though.

So, I relocated to my late mother’s hometown of Mooresville, NC, and moved in with my grandmother, over 175 miles to the west. One of her late sisters had an in-law suite built onto the house and I stayed there. Very cramped quarters but it worked for awhile. Then I found out the cute little house next door was for rent, and the lady across the street owns it. We met and spoke about it, and though she was adamant at first that no pets were allowed, I begged her to consider just my cats. She relented and I moved in exactly one year ago. There have been a few issues with the house, a tiny 786-square-foot cottage, but it is tightly built and cozy. Very well cared-for, as well. A short walk through the woods and I am at my grandmother’s house so that is a perfect situation.

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So what’s next? That is a good question.

My my goal at present is to buy a house, hopefully an older one with lots of charm and character. You won’t find me in a cookie cutter subdivision. If I had unlimited funds, I’d buy a vintage Victorian mansion and spend my time sanding and refinishing it until it looks like knew. Unless someone is giving one away, I’d say that’s somewhere in the distant future, if it ever happens at all. More likely is finding an older house with a lot of character, within my budget, and making it my forever home. Because honestly, I don’t ever want to move again.

In the meantime, I will refocus the blog on various homes I see and like, and discuss them as they capture my interest. Stay tuned, and we’ll see what happens…

Oil Furnace Repair (Not recommended for most folks!)

Please note: While I feel comfortable doing most of my own work there are some things which are inherently dangerous, and working on any combustible-based heater or furnace is one of them. I do not recommend a homeowner attempt these repairs or ones like them. I expressly deny any liability from damages should one attempt these repairs or ones like them. This blog in its entirety is for entertainment and information purposes only, and no guarantee or warranty is implied or expressed on the contents herein as to the correctness, fitness, adaptability or usability of the ideas, contents or directions set forth herein. 

Okay, for obvious reasons, I needed to get that out of the way.  All right, here’s the problem.

Several years ago I had a flood which inundated the crawlspace of my house and most of my garage. It was devastating in many ways. I had no flood insurance and tons of things were hopelessly damaged. Chief of them was my old old furnace.

This furnace is what is known as a floor furnace. It literally sits in the floor in a central location of the house and warm air reaches most places in the house quite easily. It has but one duct, and a blower forces fan over the hot heat exchanger and up into the room. Given the house is only 1000 square feet, it works quite well.  The entire furnace, duct, heat exchanger, blower and burner are all house in one 24″ by 36″ compact unit with only a 2-wire thermostat, fuel and 110 volt power hookups.

Over time, I learned how to reset the primary control and bleed the line when it ran out of fuel. It functioned well in the 2 years I had it prior to the flood.

Some people might grimace at the thought of oil heat. Messy! Yucky! Expensive! Not clean burning! I’ve heard it all.

The truth is, oil is one of the most efficient fuels out there. It contains more BTU’s per dollar than any other fuel, and runs hotter than natural gas or propane, meaning it doesn’t have to run as much. Right now it runs about once an hour, set at 68 degrees, for roughly five minutes, with the outside ambient temp at 50.  That’s pretty darn efficient!

This is what it looks like…

I got a few paint splatters on it the grate so I need to do a thorough cleaning at some point.  Anyway, with the unit non-functional, I crawled under there and assessed the damage. Right away, I could see the control board wasn’t working. There ‘s a green light that flashes if the unit isn’t working, but that light was out even though I had the thermostat all the way up. The transformer was warm so I knew it was getting power. So, I ordered a new one.  It cost $69.00 plus 10.00 shipping.

Two weeks ago I went under there to replace that control. It relays the signal from the thermostat to turn on the burner. It worked, sort of, once I replaced the control. But it would not stay running. The motor was nearly frozen and took a long time to free up, with me patiently moving the fan back and forth until it moved, but it was clear, this unit was toast.

New control board being installed.

Ok, then, I started assembling what I needed. First, a new flue pipe. I purchased all I needed for $70.00 at Lowes, including elbows, 4-foot lengths and a male coupler.

I found one problem: the collar where the flue pipe attaches was severely rusted. I suspect this was less a result of the flood than rain coming down the chimney. (My next project will be a good chimney cap!)  Nonetheless, I had serious doubts as to whether this was a viable project.

I removed the old pieces of flue pipe and inspected. The firebox or heat exchanger was actually in decent shape, made of heavy-gauge steel which had little rust except some surface rust. The collar was a different story, though; the bottom third was gone.

I decided to try something, unsure if it would work. I took the connecting male coupler, normally used for joining two pieces of female flue pipe and cut a 2 inch slit in it with my tin snips. This allowed it to narrow slightly. I then inserted it in the damaged collar which was a very tight fit: the collar is also a male fitting designed for the female end to slide over it. So being the same size (except where I slit it) it wasn’t going to go in easily. The slit enabled me to get it in and started, and I took a block of wood and a hammer and gently hammered it in until it would go no further.  I tried to pull it out and could not, it was in there very securely! I felt if there was any chance of this repair to leak, I would abandon the project. But once I examined it, I was very confident it would not leak at all, nor pop loose.  Then I assembled the rest of the flue pipe. I didn’t get good pics of those, but here’s one I was trying to pop together earlier…

Assembling flue pipe requires pushing down while aligning the ends so they slide in together, then pushing back to round once they pop together

So then it was time to buy a new burner. I looked on eBay and found a nice used one (used only 2 years, per the seller, who is an HVAC guy) which looked perfect. I bought it for 159.99 with free shipping.

It arrived 6 days later and I was ready to get rolling. I gathered the tools and worked my way under there. Important note: ALWAYS wear a face mask under an old house. No telling what you will breathe in!

Three bolts hold the old unit on, on the back where the black flange is. It also requires disconnecting the 110v line and turning off the valve on the fuel tank and disconnecting the fuel line.

Old burner. Beckett Type A, AF

This is the old one, above.  I got it out and examine it, actually in good shape save for the motor.

The new one had arrived, a more modern Beckett Model AFG, very similar. And here’s where it gets complicated. I have never done this kind of work before but I did a lot of online reading and studying and asking some questions.

The most important thing was this: never, ever alter the manufacturer’s settings. These things can run on a variety of settings but that depends on the furnace manufacturer’s construction specifications. I examined mine and found the air adjustment on the new one was precisely the same as the old one. But one big item was the nozzle and blast tube, where the fire actually shoots out.  These were as different as night and day.

The new one, as it arrived (below) had a 3.75 inch blast tube and .60 nozzle. The old one had a .70 hollow nozzle and a 7 inch blast tube. I couldn’t tell the blast tube length until I removed it.

Almost new Beckett AFG burner

So the first thing I did was remove the blast tubes. Just four screws and it slides off. Inside the igniter and nozzle are housed.  They are all one unit, and detach easily.

So I made the swap, and thus my new burner was now configured like the old one.  Here’s what it looks like after the swap.

New burner with old blast tube attached.

Though the old blast tube looked rusty, it was just light surface rust. It had no defects or issues. So I assembled the entire thing and it was ready to go.

One last issue was the fitting for the fuel line. The old line had a straight fitting but the new one was L shaped, and pointing straight up, meaning I couldn’t just screw the line in. Ok, a quick trip to NAPA and I had a one-foot length of 3/8ths  inch tubing and a new compression fitting.

Making compression fittings is pretty easy, you just cut the length of pipe with a pipe cutter, then place in the flaring tool. Leave about an eighth of an inch above the tool and use the flarer to expand it. It’s important to put your compression nut on the pipe before you flare it, otherwise there’s no way to get it on.

Flaring the pipe

Then it’s ready to attach. I did this on both ends and added a connecting piece so I could screw the old line into the connector, the connector into the new one-foot line, and the new line could be bent at a 90-degree angle to meet the connector on the new burner.

Flared end with nut.

Finished fitting

Then it was time to attach it to the burner. This was done quickly and it was time to get back under and start assembling everything.

Replacing the burner, once all the details were done, is nothing difficult. Simply make sure you have a good or new gasket, place it in place and bolt it on, then make your connections.

This is the hole where the old one was removed. As seen here, the white gasket is in great shape.

Then I was a matter of getting it in place, securing the 110 v line, attaching the thermostat (2-wire, white and red, and color coded to it’s impossible to make a mistake, and attaching the fuel line.

So finally, I got it in place. I turned the power back on, started the fuel running again, checked the flue pipe to make sure it was still seated, and crawled back under.

Moment of truth.

I couldn’t get it to fire, but I was ready for that. No doubt air got in the line when I opened it, so it would be necessary to bleed it first. No sweat. Second attempt. I open the valve, let the line bleed and heard a nice roar, and it caught.  I turned the bleeder valve shut again and waited, and listened. The furnace continued to run and within a minute, the blower kicked in, scattering dust, leaves and my cats all over the house! No kidding, my cats had never heard it run so it took them a day to realize this thing wasn’t going to hurt them!

The installed unit is shown here, with the green light on above the red button, and the new copper line coming out of the left side.

And lastly, from the inside, a view from the topside. There is a window on the heat exhanger which allows HVAC guys to evaluate the flame and I opened it to see how it looked. Nice hot fire blowing into the firebox.

Fire in the hole!

There was only one scary moment or two. After I got it running, I smelled a pretty strong smoky smell. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I shut it off. I did smell fumes, like diesel fumes, a bit, but it didn’t smell quite like it, either. I checked to see if the fumes were going up the chimney and they were, quite a strong flow. I shut it off for the day, and tried it again the next morning. Still some fumes but I noticed a bit of smoke on the firebox. Then it hit me, it wasn’t fuel or fumes, but dust and grime from five years of non-use burning off. I’d vacuumed and cleaned it before firing, but the vacuum could only reach a few areas, not all. After three days, the smells were gone and it’s just been nice, warm air blowing out.

I’m totally happy.  🙂

Old total:                                                                                          $369.96

New total: (including $600 for yard work earlier)         $918.99

Starting again… Some HVAC work

It’s been almost 10 months since I’ve posted here. I did get moved into the house and have had a number of time issues crop up which necessitated putting off work on the house.  A few other issues have cropped up as well, but the biggest one is money.

As I mentioned previously, I’m on disability, so it takes some time to save up and tackle jobs. One thing I did not really factor was that living here was going to be more expensive than I budgeted for. This is the first time I have lived here on my own since I was approved for disability. So, economically, it was a whole new ball game. And it’s been tough.

Nonetheless, I was able to work a few odd jobs here and there and get caught up on a few bills. Medical bills are the ones that kill me, pun intended.

So, as cold weather has arrived and I take stock of my needs, here is what I have done, and still need to do.

1. Landscaping. This is a huge issue, as the previous owners planted all manner of bushes and shrubs and a ton of plants and vines. It was so overgrown this summer I knew I could never take care of it myself. So I hired two guys to come with chainsaws and trimmers and $600 later I had all the bushes around the house cut down and removed, and the hedges bordering the property cut and trimmed. But I have yet to do anything about putting new bushes or mulch in place, so that is upcoming…

2. HVAC work. More on this below.

3. Kitchen and bath. The kitchen needs all new paint and a new floor, and I would love to redo the cabinets or at least get new counters.  The bath needs to be completely gutted and redone.

4. Back porch. Roof is leaking and must be replaced, including rafters. It’s a screened porch, and I would love to convert it to a bedroom since it has a full foundation, but that will be quite costly.

5. Dining room. This was orginally the back porch for the house, closed in many years ago. It has ugly paneling for both walls and roof. I want to gut this also and sheetrock it and paint it.  And the laundry room is off to the side of this room and also needs to be gutted.  There is ample room for a toilet and sink there so a nice half bath/laundry room combo makes sense.

That’s where I am.

Currently, I have been working on the old oil furnace that sits in the middle of the house. I’d never seen one like this, just a single large floor vent that blows the air straight up into the living room.  But it gave a warm, marvelous heat, and nothing felt so good on that first cold morning of winter when it kicked on for the first time. But it was partially submerged in a flood a few years ago, leaving it useless. In the meantime, I bought a used heat pump/AC to use. Works great, and I installed it myself, but it’s mega expensive to operate. My power bill jumps from about 96.00 a month in winter to about $225.00. So, I wanted to get that furnace up and running again, if possible.

Old oil furnace, minus grate. 

I went under there a few weeks ago to assess the damage. The flue pipe was completely rusted away, and the primary control board was toast. I replaced the board and got it to fire, briefly. So I then assembled a new flue pipe and screwed and attached the sections together, and fired it up…

And it would not work. Even with new fuel. At times the flame gun’s blower wouldn’t even turn. And after multiple attempts, the unit locked up completely, telling me either the motor or the pump had broken entirely.

I have ordered a good used burner with a new nozzle and a new pump assembly  ready to hook up and install. As soon as it comes, I will post pics and update….

Home Repair on a Budget: Days Thirty-One to Thirty Three.

It’s time to break out the bubbly! No, it’s not New Year’s yet, but at long last, I can move into the house again. The last job, installing and painting the quarter-rounds is done. This is a big day for me, something I’ve waited for for a long time. I have much, much more to do, mind you, but at this point, at least, I can breathe a bit easier; the hardest, toughest job is done and I can move back in and tackle the rest of the house while I’m living there.

Let’s see what I have so far…

This is the living room extension, I had just started and had this corner done; you can see the small pieces I cut off on the floor.

Above is the back bedroom, and below is the living room at the front door and coat closet.

Like every job in this house, it has had a few difficulties. One of them is a perplexing filing job some worker did to mate the baseboards to the door frames. The baseboards were apparently wider than the boards used in the door frames, so they were filed down at the ends so they wouldn’t protrude. In some cases this was more pronounced than others, but it meant laying the shoe molding (quarter-rounds) was a headache. Here’s how I dealt with it:

This shows how the baseboard was filed down just before it ends in contact with the door frame, and making a straight line to the door is impossible. So, I cut a slight angle on the end piece of quarter round and nailed it in place.

These pics were taken before I put the paint on, so it looks “unfinished” but my phone was dead when I did the painting, and now the paint has been applied and the lines and nail holes are mostly filled in. You can also see a lot of sawdust on the top of the baseboard; I had to go around with a vacuum and damp rag prior to painting the quarter-rounds. I also had a lot of gouges from the hammer and the sander to deal with, plus some stain which splashed up when applying that to the floor, so I basically gave the baseboards another coat of paint while I was at it.

I will go back and take my expensive Nikon camera to shoot the house in more detail as soon as I do some final cleaning and touch-ups.

I’m still looking for those missing receipts; I will have to guesstimate if I can’t find them!

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