The past six months have been a whirlwind that only recently subsided, allowing me a chance to sit down and write about everything that happened this summer and fall at My Perfect Little Money Pit. My sincerest apologies to all the readers out there who have been waiting for an update. The vinyl came down in May with the goal of completing all work by October 1st so that all documentation could be submitted for the rehabilitation tax credit program here in New York State. The necessity of submitting this documentation for the anticipated 20% tax credit is predicated on the fact that MPLMP was officially listed in the New York State Register of Historic Places in September! It is currently under review by the National Park Service for listing on the National Register of Historic Places and a decision should be made within a few weeks. The validation that MPLMP is significant enough to be individually listed on the National Register is a true honor and testament to its unique history.
But enough about pleasant rewards for past work done during last winter…lets focus on the stress and toil endured…for good reason. Soon after the vinyl was removed I had Steve Jordan come by and give the facade a quick look, to let me know what level of restoration was needed. Very few areas were severely weathered and in need of reconditioning (a 1:1 mix of turpentine and boiled linseed oil brushed onto the surface and allowed to soak in), however the existing paint surface was in terrible shape and in order to achieve a quality paint job the entire front of the house, especially the shingles, would need to be stripped clean of paint before any painting or prep work was begun.
Let me just say it bluntly…we completely underestimated how hard this would be to complete. We even naively believed we could strip, prep, and paint the front by ourselves on nights and weekends…hahaha! In the end we hired Andrew Struble Painting to sand, prime, and paint the house, just in the nick of time. Between the end of May and the end of September we put in 150+ hours of prep work (stripping paint) and carpentry restoration.
I had done some wood refinishing and paint stripping before at my parents house, primarily utilizing a heat gun, caustic chemical strippers, and scrappers to remove paint. Due to the shear scale of stripping work to be done (400-500 sq ft) it was not feasible to use a chemical stripper…especially a typical one (methylene chloride based) which is as effective at stripping paint as it is at causing cancer and passing through respirators. Even tamer, but still effective strippers like Soy-Gel, would just be too tedious, time consuming and expensive to get the job done. Furthermore any chemical stripper usually permeates into the wood itself and has to be cleaned out to avoid reacting with your finish coating. I was also wary of using a heat gun after hearing one too many horror stories of people stripping the paint off of their wood clad homes, and in a horrible twist of fate burning their house down. Heat guns are very effective at melting the paint off of its substrate, but the high temperatures of ~1000 degrees required vaporize the lead in leaded paint and can scorch and form embers on the wood you are trying to strip.
We finally settled on using an infrared paint stripper, or as our housemate likes to call it, a space laser. Infrared paint strippers use a lower heat ~500 degrees and primarily do their magic utilizing infrared radiation to break the bond between the paint and the wood beneath. They are lead safe, as they do not get hot enough to vaporize the lead in the paint, and they also do not blow air like a heat gun, and so pose little risk to forming embers that get pushed up behind the wood siding. However, they are still certainly hot enough to burn yourself on, as I found out…three times.
Our general process was as follows:
- We cleared the ground at the area we were to work. Then laid down a tarp to catch all of the stripped paint as it was scraped off.
- Kit and I developed a tag team method as the infrared stripper takes about ~45 seconds to break the bond and is a bit bulky to hold while trying to scrape the effected paint off the wood. One of us would be holding the stripper at our location as the other scraped their just “baked” area clean of paint and so on. (Note: Using a high quality and sharp scrapper makes a world of difference in addition to a somewhat nuanced method of pulling the scrapper slightly out of line with the grain of the shingles.)
- When we were finished or sufficiently exhausted, we partially folded up the tarp to collect the paint chips into a concentrated area and then sucked them up into a shop-vac equipped with a drywall bag and filter.
We were lucky enough to obtain a two level set of old mason’s scaffolding for working our way up the facade, however the final areas up top had to mainly be reached from an extension ladder and the creative scaffold solution pictured below. The depth of the facade created by the large window bay on the first floor made it very difficult to reach some areas any other way.
We plugged away at it the whole summer, with many of our neighbors commenting on our level of determination (insanity) to take on such a big project. We also did not foresee the rain soaked June that was to come with additional weekends of rain and inclement weather in July and August. This caused the last 50% of the stripping work to be completed in the final 3-4 weeks before the painters arrived around October 1st.
In addition to the stripping work there were several pieces of woodwork: crown molding at the roof eaves, curved bargeboard kicks, and drip molding over the windows which had be severely damaged or removed completely by the ham handed vinyl siding installers a decade earlier. Luckily we have our fair share of quality lumber suppliers and mill shops around Rochester so I was able to get new molding milled (Bloch Industries) to match the original and finish lumber (Lakeshore Hardwoods) for remaking the bargeboard kicks and drip moldings at our local community wood shop, Rochester Maker Space. Although the original millwork was made from old growth white pine (a fantastic wood no longer available), we chose to use rift-sawn oak for its dimensional stability, strength, superior rot resistance and affordability (Western Red Cedar, American Mahogany, and Cypress were all more expensive).
In the end we succeeded in stripping 95% of all of the exterior woodwork, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t installing the new millwork while our painters were on site…more on that in the next post!