Our new old home - fixing some whole house utilitiy things and picking finishes for the overall style
You know when you buy a new old home there are actually quite a few 'overall' big decisions you have to make such as oh, do all the utilities work? Do we have the right utilities? What color scheme do we want, what style? Should all the outlets match at some point. Is our house warm enough in the winter (spoiler: it is not)
A lot of big and small decisions that don't only relate to one room but helps make all of the home cohesive and well thought out when you are all done.
So today I thought I would take you through some of those 'whole house' decisions that we have been making lately before we recently dove into going room by room.
We knew before we bid on our new home that one of the first big things we needed to tackle was the indoor water lines. All the water lines were galvanized, original piping from the 50s. We didn't have leaks or anything like that. Everything worked but the insurance company gave us one year to update to new pipes throughout. I guess they can do that.
Our options for new pipes were between copper and PEX - a plastic type pipe. Copper is pretty expensive and with all the 'crap' that is in the water nowadays I have heard enough stories about people having leaks in their homes with copper pipes, so it was pretty easy to choose a PEX system. We went with the Wirsbo/Uponor system which get glowing recommendations from everyone we have talked to.
I talked to at least five or six companies and got prices pretty much all over the board. Some as high as 40.000 dollars!?
Everybody and their brother seems to be moving to Seattle these days and the housing marked is hot hot hot up here, so in order to even get in, people buy a fixer and so everyone is out hiring contractors so they can pretty much set their own pricing. And that is exactly what they do.
We found some that were more reasonable in price and they included the rough-in plumbing of two of our bathrooms that we are completely remodeling and where all but the toilets are playing musical chairs. That made it worth it to pull the trigger on such a large expensive task. And it had to be done. Riiiiiip <--- bandaid being pulled off.
(We got kittens in May - Freya and Sigue)
When we remodeled our house in California, the master suite was the last room to receive a makeover and once it was done it just provided so much ease and structure to our mornings that we promised ourselves that the master would be the first thing we would tackle in our new place. This was one more reason that we really wanted to tackle the rough plumbing in this bathroom and our son's bathroom right away.
Only thing is that we don't exactly have the savings to complete them right this minute so for now they are standing there in their glorious roughness and look like this. And will be for the next foreseeable future while we save up some money for them.
Of course I can already see them finished in my mind's eye and I could not be more excited.
For now the most exiting part of the re-pipe has been the fact that we also installed a re-circulation pump system at the same time. It is a third line that runs next to the hot and cold water (see picture next to the kittens) and it continuously circulates the hot water so that when you open any faucet in the home you now have hot water in seconds. Not minutes like before. It saves money on the water bill because you don't have to empty out all the cold water before the hot water comes through. Most of all it saves so much time especially in the kitchen. I can't recommend this enough. It is so nice.
As far as an original 1953 house goes, grounding an outlet typically meant tying a piece of wire around the nearest galvanized pipe. Which works. Until you change out those pipes with plastic pipes. Then you need real ground which is typically a copper or other metal stake that is put into the ground near the main panel and connect to it and then each wire in the wall has a copper/third wire which you connect to your outlets and to that same panel getting ground to every outlet of your house. All plugs on electrical appliances, PC's etc which have that third prong can then be grounded once plugged in to such an outlet. Many things do not have a ground in the plug but some do. A phone charger for instance. No ground. A toaster. A glue gun. No ground. But the electric kettle does and my hair dryer does. In our house almost all the outlets have only two slots. And no real ground. Except for a few places where the wiring has been updated, the wires only have two wires - hot and neutral. No ground.
So we have been busy pulling ground to all the rooms where it makes sense. This would be to outlets that are going to have a PC, a TV a hair dryer and to bathrooms in general. The kitchen does have some ground, but can wait until we update all of the kitchen to fully ground the outlets there.
All the outlets and switches with a few exceptions have been painted over in this house and they are quite difficult to turn on and off and they make a loud 'thud' when you do. To the point that if my son turns on the light at night to go downstairs for water in the kitchen, the sound of him flipping the switch wakes me up.
So this is something we are going to update as well. We are going to do this room by room as we go through and paint and decorate each room.
We looked at several systems and the one where we both got butterflies in our stomachs was the Adorne Legrand system. It is so elegant yet minimalistic and goes great with the mid century modern feel of our home. It is also by far the most expensive and no, they are not sponsoring us. So we thought long and hard about it, but decided that it was worth it for this house. This is one of the places that we want to splurge.
The regular switches and outlets run about 12-15 dollars which is quite a bit more than the regular ones from the building supply store, but where it really hurts are the dimmers, timers and automatically on/off switches which run more in the 40-60 dollar range for one. Ouch. But look how pretty they are. Who can say no to that.
Surprisingly!, a house from the 50s does not come with cables in the walls for internet. For the first 9 months we lived here, Frank had quickly run the cables over the floors and up and down the stairs. Not pretty or particularly safe either. But hey, it worked.
Once the re-pipe was done we pulled new cable into the walls where we will need it. This would be everywhere there is going to be a TV or a computer. We did it while many walls where opened from the whole house re-pipe, it was not a very difficult task. It only cost us the price of cable - a couple hundred bucks I think - and the keystone plugs/outlets. We already had the special tools you need to connect the plugs with the wires.
And oh how nice is is that we no longer have to look at or trip over cables anymore.
Currently our home does not have gas. It was originally oil heated and everything else is electric. We do have gas in the street and the gas company is only charging 600 bucks to get it to the house. And I really REALLY want to cook with gas and I also REALLY want to convert our fireplace so that it can be either wood burning or gas burning.
We have to pull all the pipes inside the house at our own cost, however and that is, you guessed it, not easy or cheap. I have one estimate right now, but it was an estimate where they wanted to prepare to turn the water heaters to gas heated eventually, but I don't think we want to do that because we are thinking about maybe solar down the road instead. So that estimate had too much pipe in it. But they do estimate 140 dollars per foot of pipe I think it was. So cha-ching. Plus tax.
I haven't pursued this a whole lot yet but we need to address it before we close up all the walls again. Which I would really like to do pretty soon. Need a money tree over here.
The previous owners had a contingency on their insurance to phase out the oil tank. They installed a heat pump system to replace it. It is very energy efficient and makes it extremely inexpensive to heat up the house. It also has air condition for the summer time, but honestly it doesn't get hot enough to use it. That was the good news.
The bad news. It is so m#"@ f¤#@@#"¤ ugly you
almost want to cry. On the main level and down stairs we have these huge monstrosities hanging on the walls. Upstairs they were able to run everything over the attic so it looks like a normal heating systems with small vent covers in the ceiling. But downstairs ...
I am raking my brain trying to come up with some solutions. I think I need to have the company come out. I have searched Pinterest for solutions but nothing has really materialized. Why would you make something so ugly and not have even one viable solution to make it at least a little better. If you know of anything, please let me know. I know you can get a system that goes into the ceiling. A huge box. A slight improvement, but probably not worth the money. Help.
What insulation? Ok all the exterior walls have insulation, but the attic has maybe 4 inches of blow in insulation. That is it. And right now with the bathrooms demo'ed we have some ceilings torn down with free access to said attic. Mmmmm it is a bit chilly here now let's just say. We are in the month of December right now and brrrr. So insulation of the attic is pretty high on our agenda. And drywalling the missing ceilings. We did the next best thing and bought a couple of cords of wood so we at least have a nice heat source in the living room. I also bought a couple of space heaters and best of all a heating blanket for my bed. But still. When it hits the mid 30s. Brrrr.
Other than that, the plan here is to fill up the bays between the joists in the attic with more blow-in insulation and then we are going to get some R-30 insulation on top. That should make it nice and toasty.
At least once...
... we also get new windows. I love the windows of this house. They are original 1950s aluminum frame windows. But, did I mention single pane?
Fun fact: The aluminum frame has more heat loss than the single pane window itself. The remedy for that is to get an alu frame with a composite type insulation inside the frame. We really want to get some insulated, double pane windows, but we are still researching. One obstacle I ran into is that one company, I think it was Anderson, said due to salt water corrosion, don't install aluminum windows if you are near the beach. Which we are. That is code for: our warranty does not cover in that case. So yes... Something to think about.
Meanwhile our 65 year old aluminum windows have been doing just fine near salt water.
I really really want windows that are so close to the original that you come in and say: You changed the windows? While you take of your sweater because it is so nice and warm inside. One order of that please! So much research to be done there still. And money to save up. Sensing a theme?
Doors and knobs
All the doors and many of the knobs are original in this house. We have some beautiful white oak paneling in the staircase (see image under Cable) and all the doors there are the same white oak. So beautiful. All the doors are slab doors meaning no panels or frills. It goes beautifully with the 50s style. We have quite a few pocket doors and even some swing doors in the kitchen as well. We are not going to change any of that.
Many of the original door knobs have become pitted and worn over the years, so we want to update those. The original ones are all brass. Some of the door knobs have been switched out to chrome. Some to a new brass knob with a slightly different profile. We really want to change them all out to the same kind in a brass and I really want some that are a satin brass or brushed brass. This is pretty difficult to find. At least at a reasonable price point. Let me walk you through it:
You can have a shiny brass door knob for the low low price of 14 dollars or a very similar one in brushed brass for the pricey pricey price of 100 dollars a pop.
Here they are
Which one do I really really like? The expensive one of course. I mean. Doesn't it scream mid century modern to you? We haven't fully decided but when my money tree sprouts in the spring....
We have gorgeous solid oak floors throughout most of the house. In the bathrooms and kitchen we have either linoleum or vinyl where it has been updated through the years. I love our oak floors and I threaten every contractor who comes though the door with violence to not leave a dent in them. They have been covered in carpet until a few years ago, so they are in mint condition and I love them SO much.
Style and color scheme
So it probably won't come as a big surprise that we are keeping this house a mid century modern gem. Of course. What might be a surprise is this. As I already mentioned in the post about our green guest bath, his beautiful house, even though t it is Mid-century, to me seems much more fur-stole Marlene Dietrich than Frank Sinatra rat-pack style. So don't be expecting too many egg or Eames chairs, or even too many Danish teak side boards. We are going to take it in a bit more of a glam but still minimalistic direction because that is what the house is telling us.
And with that we have arrived at one of our newest decisions: The previous owners came through the house with a painting crew and painted everything yellow. You know, my favorite color. So this is something we will be changing. The original house was mostly green so we will be doing a lot of green in this house, but not on the walls.
We knew we wanted white everywhere, but which white? There are so many. We picked a cream white and a white white and I painted them on some large pieces of cardboard and pretty quickly we decided on the white white. More specifically the Benjamin Moore Chantilly White. Which is a peculiar name because Chantilly sauce is cream and egg yolks mixed together making it decidedly NOT white white... but I digress...
So there you have it. A LOT of decisions for the whole house before we can dive in and go room by room and paint and decorate and all that fun stuff that I can' wait to share with you.
We spent Thanksgiving break painting the office and we are also knee deep in a small makeover of the green guest bathroom. So that is some content you can expect coming up. Should be slightly more exiting than plumbing and electrical, right?
I am a Danish American decorating life in Seattle. I love all things design and DIY.
I can’t think of anything more fun than coming up with project, making it, photographing it and sharing it with you on my websites.
I am a Graphic Artist and home maker by day.
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