Beach house #12 – The face-lift has begun.

July 31st, 2017

Remember the front porch that was here when we bought the place?


I love that there is a front porch on this house – I just don’t like the front porch itself. It must have been super cute back when it was first built. But it dates the house, and all the posts were rotted out at the bottom. The porch roof was pretty much just floating.

I had really, really really wanted to wait until everything else was done before we did the porch, like a final TA-DA! sort of thing. But with the waiting and waiting on the sill plate stuff, there’s nothing I can really do inside the house. I had to do something so that I wasn’t just wasting time – so porch demo began.


It only took them a day to completely demo and replace all the posts. And I was so glad we had. The damage was so much worse than I had thought:


These posts – this one was the worst one – were just gone. Luckily the termites didn’t get all the way up to the ceiling!!!

New 4x4s in place, pressure treated this time:


They sure look skinny right now but I’m going to beef them up and stain them cedar.

Before/after views of the front porch:

porch2 IMG_20170711_172941

I’m probably going to end up laying a deck over those tiles because they’re so uneven. And it bothers me that the front of the porch is only 2″ lower than the rest of it. I think a nice cedar-stained deck matching the porch columns could look really nice. Even if it’s more than I’d wanted to spend.

Beach house #11 – Peeling back more layers

July 29th, 2017

We had been thinking to keep the kitchen floor and build a new one over it, but since we’re doing everything the right way I decided to just go ahead and rip it out. I also wanted to assess the condition of the subfloor, knowing already that there were a couple small rotten patches around the old termite damage areas.

I thought it’d take about an hour.

kitchen gutted

Five hours and five layers (should have known!) later:


It’s only about as bad as I’d thought, thank goodness, and easy enough to fix. I did almost fall through to the basement on one weak board, soooooooo… the sooner the better.

One cool thing about tearing out the floor(s) is that now there’s room to install hardwood floors and integrate them with the rest of the house. I’m planning on using reclaimed oak planks from Second Chance – both economical and environmentally friendly! Since we have to refinish all the floors anyway, it won’t be that big a deal to have to do one more room. Totally worth it for the aesthetic continuity throughout all rooms.

Beach house #10 – progress

July 27th, 2017

We can’t do anything structural to the house until the sill plates have been changed out (can’t build a strong wall on a crumbling foundation after all). So I’ve been casting about for other projects to do so I’m not just spinning my wheels, and I’ve started on the bedroom closets.

I’m terrible at remembering to take before photos. At least here you can see some of Bedroom #2’s closet, where the new doorway will be once we can reframe that missing wall.


Suffice to say there were tons more framing shenanigans and there will have to be a lot more demo than I had hoped. Still, it’s worth it to know it’s really done the right way.

First I framed in the original Bedroom #1 closet opening:

framingfixed 4

And then I built a new one!

bed1 closeta

I had to cut off part of that decorative (empty box) ceiling beam in order to expand the wall out into a closet. Turned out to be a good thing, because on the other side I’m doing the opposite move and I will be left with a ceiling beam that ends 2 feet out from the wall. So this chunk will be just perfect for patching that one.

Now for the other side. I’d hoped I would only have to make an opening in it, but it was not built right to begin with (it was built from 2x2s and moulding strips) so it has to be torn out first. Luckily these closets were put in after the hardwoods, so I don’t have to do any significant floor patching. Just nail hole filling. Lots and lots of nail hole filling.


Beach house #9 – looking forward

July 25th, 2017

Good news – I got my building permit!

It’s a big relief. I’ve never gone through the process before. But I was in and out in under an hour and they had an answer for me within a few business days. Easy! (Good thing, too, since we had to start demo already).

Here’s the original floorplan. A dear friend and great designer volunteered to make it up for me as a kind of goodbye present before she left for California (sad, sad, sigh, but I don’t blame her).

493 Riverside plans ORIGINAL kitchen

And here’s my proposed:


Moving Bedroom #2’s door down into its current closet gives us enough space to add a second full bathroom, which adds tons of value to this project. (And at this point, having spent much more than we’d thought already, improving the house’s underlying value is more important than ever. If anything goes wrong, we want to be able to sell it and not lose money).

I opened up Bedroom #1’s closet into Bedroom #2 instead, and Bedroom #1 gets a new closet built from scratch. Now the two bedrooms are of equal size.

Also note the kitchen move, which frees up that old kitchen area to become a TV, dining room, or third bedroom. I’m going to put French doors in the opening and finishing the framing on the back porch (the owner framed in the sides but left the back open) would make a great laundry room or walk in closet.

The kitchen now looks out onto the water but does not obstruct the view. The kitchen will be open-concept and include a breakfast bar with pendant lighting which ties it in with the rest of the living space.

I’ve fallen in love with the potential in this little shack and I can’t wait to make it utterly beautiful again. Even if we don’t live in it ourselves at first, Josh and I are planning on “downsizing” there after the kids move out. Some day, it will be a really darling little cottage.

Beach house #8 – when it rains, it pours

July 23rd, 2017

So remember how there were termites in the walls? …. yeah. Turns out there were termites in the sill plate, as well. Just the, you know, foundation of the house.

You know how they fix that? They jack the house up in the air. Seriously. If we didn’t think this rehab project was getting real earlier? It sure is now!

Oh, AND. Fun surprise – if you gut more than 50% of your house, you’re suddenly responsible for updating  the whole electrical system too! Whee! Turns out not to be such a terrible thing, really, because some of the electrical work we found… let’s just say it was done with the same care as the framing. The wires, for instance, were often just taped on. I found a couple junction boxes that had clearly been sparking and smoking for a long time, a few boxes with melted insulation along the ends of the wires, a few junction boxes just…. just wide open.


Again, it’s a problem I didn’t wish for but one that I’m glad we found. We can put in all new electrical from scratch and have the confidence of knowing that the entire system is totally modernized, properly and carefully.

And on the upside, like I was telling Josh the other night – after my initial freakout we’ve been handling this all quite tidily and calmly. In fact we even found some foundation issues, got a structural engineer in there the next day, and we’re getting it fixed right alongside the sill plates, no problem, ta-da.

If we can handle all this – termites, load-bearing walls, sill plates, foundations, plumbing, whole electrical systems, basically rebuilding the house from the ground up? We can handle anything. I feel so much more capable and I’m learning so much that we’re already (well, I’m already) starting to think about next time.

Beach house #7 – in which we learn an alternate approach to gravity

July 21st, 2017

I am really kicking myself now that I didn’t get better pictures, but below are some of the reasons I was glad that we did end up opening all the walls. Check out some of the crazy framing I found inside.


framing fixed

There was no solid corner stud there. It was a conglomeration of little 6″ chunks piled like jenga blocks; the load path zigged back and forth and was bisected in two different places. It took more than an hour to rip/sawzall out all the random stuff just enough to be able to slide in this single solid stud (that part took less than ten minutes).

Bathroom wall: This load bearing wall is a ballerina.


Basement window: There’s no header or even framing on this window. It’s held in with caulk, the gap between it and the cinderblock is pasted shut with 1/4″ plywood and more caulk. The only thing supporting the (sagging) joist above? Is that 3″ chunk of 2×2 perched on the casing of the actual window itself and held in place by, you guessed it, more caulk.


Living room corner (again): The stud that this one replaces stopped 8″ short of actually reaching the top plate:


Kitchen overhead (very load-bearing) beam: This beam was only “supported” by a 10″ chunk of termite-hollowed 4×4, sandwiched between two equally rotten studs that I actually crumbled off the wall with just my fingers. I had to build temporary supports (you can see one of those studs in the middle) in order to rip it all out and jam in two sistered 2x4s as a post support. Luckily the bottom plate was still good there.

framingfixed 6

Same thing with this beam (You can’t see the actual beam here because it’s got the decorative covering on it. The actual support beam terminates on top of my two new studs):


All that was supporting it before (where the two new studs are now) was about a foot of 2×4. I thought it was a 4×4 actually, until I got closer and realized that no, it was just a bit of 2×4 bizarrely turned on its side and held out away from the wall to look like a 4×4. Just as effective, right?

So sometimes things that seem bad (having to gut the house we thought we’d pretty much just have to paint) turn out to be good things after all (having a house we’re reasonably sure won’t fall down on us any time soon).

Beach house #6a – Gutting: the aftermath.

July 19th, 2017

Man, there was a lot of junk to get rid of after the house was gutted. Way, way more than I’d thought.

dumpster girls

The girls had fun loading Dumpster #1 – at least the first day. (Yes, dumpster #1. We filled it and had to ask for another. Who would have thought that a house with less than 1,000sf would have so much rubbish inside it?)

dumpster girls 2

Beach house #6 – Gutted

July 17th, 2017

So I left the house like this:


and came back to it like this:



Quite a shocking change, but also? Really exciting. I love doing things from scratch. I was going to be able to craft this house from its basic skeleton through to completion. Possibilities opened up where there hadn’t been possibilities before – all of a sudden without the toilet and tub to contend with, I had the option of putting in an extra bathroom. The old kitchen could become a third bedroom, with a walk-in closet/laundry built out on the porch.

Turns out I didn’t need to do all that gutting after all, because there were no additional termite surprises. I’m still glad we did though, because:

  1. whoever put in the air ducts cut through the let-in bracing like there was no tomorrow. Several of the shear walls are compromised and honestly, I’m not sure how they survived the past few hurricane seasons.
  2. The insulation stank. It was this weird conglomeration of greasy chunks of different colors, bits and scraps of white to pink to black (but not black due to air infiltration), stuffed and packed into the cavities like a squirrel nest. Josh and I joked that he must have stolen it from a burnt-out building or something. We thought that was funny until the previous owner came by and told us that his father had, in fact, gotten it from a ship junkyard. And then I found a few chunks with actual cinders in it. Like, bits of old burnt wood. Seriously.   …Anyway, the house started smelling better as soon as we got that insulation out. So it was a good move to get it out, hough it adds another big expense to the final tally.
  3. We didn’t find more termite damage, but boy…. I’m pretty glad we caught some of the “creative” framing this guy did. More on that later.


One thing I’ll say – Though these posts might make it all seem like this project has been nothing but downers, one really good thing has come about because of it.

We went into this knowing that I often get, ahem, grumpy when I’m doing home improvement stuff, and knowing that Josh hates doing work with his hands and getting sweaty and that kind of stuff makes him grumpy too. It was something we talked about before embarking on the project – could we do this together without damaging our relationship? Without emerging bitter and resentful? We were both worried, but shouldn’t have been. Josh has pitched in wholeheartedly and never once complained, and seeing him laboring alongside me makes me all sweet and tender-hearted – so really? This house adventure has actually been pretty good for us so far. We’re in a better place now than we were when we started, and we have this project to thank for it.

Beach house #5 – Guess we can’t keep that bathroom after all. Or that room. Or that one.

July 15th, 2017

Well, so much for the bathroom. Sigh.


This is how bad the termites were in the bedroom/bathroom wall I discovered via the closet:

termites closet 5

Once they took off the drywall, the wall crumbled to pieces. See the door header on the right of that picture above? That’s a hole right through to the other room. And that fairly newish  horizontal half-stud there is evidence that whoever did this work knew about this damage and just drywalled right over it.

Another shot of the “shot” header, before they took the drywall down on the other side. That brown spot on the top right is the cardboard backing of the bedroom’s drywall.

termites closet 4

Once we realized we would have to wait on someone to come shore up and tear out the termite-ridden wall, we started work demoing the kitchen. Josh did some amazing he-man-type work  – which I loved because I HATE demo! – and got all the cabinets torn out in half a day. And then we started work on the walls.

Oh. Shoot.

termites josh demo

Except again, I didn’t say shoot.

And then here too:

termites kitchen

UGH. These people let leaks go for years. (Luckily, this damage is directly under the window that I was itching to reframe anyway!)

Once I knew that the termite damage wasn’t isolated to the bathroom,
we were going to have to peel back every wall. I couldn’t chance there being another nasty and dangerous infestation somewhere else – I couldn’t risk not knowing! So I asked the guys that were over there doing the bathroom, to do the rest of the house as well. Suddenly this had gone from a new-paint-and-cabinets job, to a down-to-the-studs, total-gut-job.

Don’t worry, it does get better. Eventually. :)

Beach house #4 – Uh-oh.

July 13th, 2017

I was waiting on guys to come rip out the subfloor/tub in the bathroom for me and I decided to tackle the hallway closet. It was a very strange thing; the door didn’t fit, it looked like it’d been sort of roughly framed-in as an afterthought and never re-trimmed, it was full of shelves made of different materials, and gave an all-around sloppy look.

It doesn’t look nearly so bad in the picture below, but flash will do wonders to bleach out grime.

termites 1 closet

I only got so far as ripping out a few shelves before I realized it was the last day of the Memorial Day Carnival, and the girls had been so good that I resolved to take them. Josh, who doesn’t like crowds and was already tired from ripping up the bathroom with me, was supposed to go home and rest. Instead, halfway through the carnival he texted me this:


Squee! He’d gone back to the little house and kept working. What more could a girl ask for? It was almost done!

So the next day I hauled the girls back over there and started taking off the odd side panelling – that white stuff wasn’t drywall, it was squares of badly-fitted, white-painted particleboard. Nothing was wrong with the right-hand side, but the left-hand side?

Oh. Shoot.

termites closet 3

Except I didn’t say “shoot.”

That them there’s some termites, ladies and gentlemen. Some termites having themselves one hell of a party.

My heart started going a million miles an hour and I broke out in a cold sweat. My stomach was in my throat as I kept going with the demo, uncovering more and more… Observe, if you will, that there is essentially nothing left of the top plate in the above photo – and that is most definitely a load bearing wall.

It didn’t get better when I peeled back the linoleum flooring to find, well…. nothing.

termites closet 1

…A giant gaping hole into the basement had been plugged and “repaired” by laying a sheet of linoleum over it. And you can see that not only is there nothing left of the studs – they crumbled to sawdust at my touch – but there’s nothing left of the bottom plate either.

And that? Repairing a load-bearing wall from the bottom plate all the way through to the top? Is not something I feel capable of DIYing. Especially not when I had to sit down and try to neither hyperventilate nor throw up while squeaking out a near-hysterical SOS to Josh over the phone.

So can I just take a moment here to put in a plug for my husband? Guys, he was amazing. Cool and collected and never once did he say any of the what-did-you-get-us-intos or how-could-you-possibly-think-you-could-handle-a-project-like-this that were most definitely running around VERY LOUDLY through my own mind. “We’ll call someone, and they’ll fix it,” was all he said. And then he made me go home and get in a bath, and he made dinner and put the kids to bed. It’s like something out of a romance novel, seriously.

Nice silver lining, you crappy beach house.