Remodeling a 1920’s Era Craftsman Home: A Do-It-Yourself Odyssey

As the new owner of a 1924 craftsman home “fixer-upper”, I was extremely excited to begin remodeling. The home had first been remodeled in the 1970’s with the addition of laminate floors and sola-tubes. In the 1990’s dual pane windows were installed. Since that time, the home was rented to rotating groups of college students resulting in huge neglect. I had grand ambitions on removing the dark colored paneling in the living room, installing better flooring, fixing the sagging ceiling, and fixing the sloping foundation in the dining room. My college-aged son volunteered to help me. I was so excited to start making this cute little craftsman house my home.

Having established Builders Site Protection, a surface protection and dust control company, I felt confident that I could safely remodel an older home. I realized that rule paint and asbestos would probably be an issue since the house was built long before 1978. I made sure to bring my ZipWall™ poles, plastic sheeting, rule Ready™ containment kit, carpet protection, safety apparel, tapes, and tools to my new home. We started with the bedrooms since they needed the least amount of work. New paint and new carpet did wonders to enhance the hominess. Applying paint colors with contrasting trim emphasized the window and door moldings noticeable in craftsman style homes. Upon close inspection I discovered that in both bedrooms, the ceilings consisted of rectangular panels sure to contain a copious amount of asbestos. instead of don a respirator and dust collecting tools to try to safely remove the panels, I decided to paint the ceilings and leave them be. This was to be the first in a long list of compromises between what I had conceived and what happened during the actual remodel.

Next up was the kitchen, which was in better shape than the rest of the rooms. After removing huge amounts of dead bugs from the sola-tube, I was impressed by the quantity of light it brought in to the windowless kitchen. When I realized that the flooring was glue down laminate and would be hard to remove, I decided to keep it as is and focus on the other parts of the home. New paint and bright white trim did wonders to enhance the look of the kitchen. An appliance repair man and an electrician were able to get the kitchen stove functioning properly.

The living room had dark paneling installed during the 1970’s in an attempt to “match” the paneling originally installed in the home during the 1920’s. Over the years, the paneling had been spray painted off-white and it was quite obvious. Although the paneling would be easy to remove, the original wall panels from the 1920’s most likely contained asbestos. After I decided to texture paint over all the walls to match and with the addition of paint and bright white moldings, the walls looked great. A new floor and the addition of craftsman style furniture maintained the feel of an older home. The old house was really starting to look good!

A small room addition jutting out from the kitchen would be used as my home office. The office room was a challenge as the floor was sloping from an old foundation. After inspection by a foundation expert and also from a local contractor, we decided that we could live with the 1″ slope as it was quite shared for the area and would cost over $3000 to fix. I was starting to think this old house wasn’t so cute after all! Using liquid cement to level the floor we were able to provide a fairly flat floor base for the installation of wood flooring. Once the walls were painted, the floor installed, and the trim replaced, the room looked great. I have only recently discovered that the walls seemingly have no insulation as this room is the coldest in the house.

Our biggest challenge was the guest bathroom. The bathroom had the original orange, cast iron tub from the 1920’s and it was in terrible shape. The cabinet was made from particle board that had decayed several decades ago and the toilet ran regularly. The water supply did not come from the back of the cabinets but from the side, so a large pipe and the house water supply shutoff were both located within the decaying cabinetry. Surrounding the old tub was an inexpensive plastic surround that had holes, caulking and nails projecting from it’s preference for the wall. There were also an old series of thin particle board cabinets in one corner that we would also need to remove. The faucet was broken and there was no hot water connection from the faucet. The cabinet and tub were not in current code as they were too close to the toilet.

Removing the 5 ½ ft cast iron tub took most of a day. Unfortunately it would need to be carried over the new flooring installed in the dining room so surface protection was a must. We carefully protected the wood floor with a recycled cotton floor protection product and used blankets to help move the old, heavy tub. Once it was removed, it took four men to lift it for recycling. Once removed, it was apparent that the floor would need to be strengthened as the tub was barely supported. After reinforcing the tub, we finished the flooring with plywood leaving an 18″ access panel for the plumber. Old molded sheetrock was removed from the walls surrounding the tub. Nearly ninety years, and at the minimum twelve different layers of wallpaper were removed from the bathroom walls that were underneath the sheetrock. We then built a thin, 2 x 2 wall in which to insulate the bathroom from the outside wall of the home which had no insulation. Since the room was so thin a 2″ wall would provide insulation in addition keep the tub and toilet in code. We used “greenboard” mold resistant board on the outside of the wall and a inner of breathable house wrap on the interior to the wall so that moisture would escape and there would not be a mold issue again in the bathroom. We also used Styrofoam to insulate the thin wall in between the house wrap and greenboard.

At this point my son left for college and I was now completely on my own. Time to call the plumber! Once the plumber was contacted to install the tub I found out that the bathroom floor sloped a good 1.5 inches away from the plumbed wall, a similar situation as the dining room. At this point I was starting to hate this little old house! To keep the tub level mortar was used however the tub was no longer resting on the tile floor, so a concealment to cover the area showing under the tub was necessary. Several weeks later I finally had finished cutting, installing, and sealing the tile and grout surrounding the tub. Although I carefully protected the tub with permanent surface protection, I nevertheless managed to make a small chip on the tub surface during clean-up. I could see first hand the importance of protecting not only the tub but also the surrounding floor and cabinets. I also determined that from now on, tiling tub surrounds was best left to the pros! Now it was time to install finish pieces and repair the ceiling from the hole the plumber left while installing the shower head. A little drywall repair, some decorative moldings, and a fresh coat of ceiling paint worked magnificently. Trim pieces for the wood cabinets and toe kicks were installed and touch up paint was applied to finalize the room.

Somewhere along the way I managed to clog my kitchen drains as they continued to back up into both sinks and my efforts at using a snake to unclog the pipes was futile. Will the repair work on this little old house never end?

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