You Beautiful Beast

Cottage East in summer 2017. Brick facade collapsing, roof in need of replacing, and windows broken and missing. The yard was an overgrown jungle in the back.

It has been so hard waiting for this. And now, the day has finally arrived. Cottage East has a new skin to go with those new windows!

The east side of the house in July 2017 – the wall was intact, but it was bulging. Collapse of the bricks on this side seemed imminent.

This old girl is nearly 125 years old. She’s older than the house I’m living in, which was built in 1899.

I wish I could say she’s had an easy life, but honestly, it has been one full of neglect and half fixes.

We pulled the bricks off of the sides ourselves. That 2×4 you see there came in handy. The bricks were merely a facade over a wood frame house. What a mess it was! That was a lot of bricks to clean up and move!

When we settled on the idea of installing vinyl siding, it was after examining each of our options.

Option #1: Put the bricks back onto the house.

When the west side wall of the house collapsed in a shower of bricks, breaking our fence and leaving piles of bricks just sitting on the side of the house, waiting to fall, we quickly realized it was a wood frame with a brick facade. This was just like Cottage West, except Cottage West’s brick facade had been cared for and reinforced with anchors at some point. Cottage East had not had the same luck. Putting the bricks back would have required a stonemason, and that would have been quite costly. Besides, the upper half of the house already had siding, so we decided it would be best to just tear it all off and cover it entirely with siding.

The east side of Cottage East just before the windows were installed.

Option #2: Put aluminum or wood siding on.

We hemmed and hawed about this for a while. Aluminum siding would have been wonderful, but when we called out the guys who did that kind of work, they took one look at Cottage East, with its partially collapsed brick wall and NEVER CONTACTED US BACK. Wood siding was not appealing to me since it meant being a future target for termites and also meant we would have to repaint regularly.

The windows nearly done…

Option #3: Put on vinyl siding, which might mean replacing it in 15-20 years.

I’m a big one for do it once and never again. My mom has vinyl siding on her house and has lived there for over 25 years. So far, so good. So that was the deciding factor for me, especially when it came to price and you know, an actual quote from someone.

A close-up of what the front eaves looked like after the older vinyl siding was stripped off. No wonder it had failed, it was put directly over the old fishscale siding!

We went with Sunshine Windows, who had also done our windows on Cottage East. A nice enough guy, and his price was $13,000 less than a quote from Champion Windows. For that much in savings, I ignored revisionist history and a love of all things “wall and Trump.”

Just don’t talk politics with him, or mention fences (which turned into a diatribe about how we need a wall) and you should be just fine.

After the fishscale siding was removed, you could see the remains of a chimney doing its best to come out (up to the right of the upstairs window). The guys installed 3/4″ insulation board as well.

And in my defense, I’ll say it again – I saved $13,000 by going with this contractor. For that kind of savings, yes, I’ll put up with a little revisionist history and pro-Trump leanings.

The back of the house needed plenty of plywood – this shot was taken before they had put anything in. As you can see, we still have plenty of bricks to turn into walkways!

The windows had arrived and were installed a few weeks ago and I was eager to see the siding come in. I had settled on a green that was close to the color of Cottage West since our neighbor who had bought the next house over and beaten me to a gorgeous shade of blue (I really like that blue and I’m really sad I didn’t have it to choose from but I did promise her I wouldn’t go with blue).

Siding on the lower front of the house as well as part of the west side. I tried to choose a color that matched Cottage West as much as possible.

Still, having both Cottages in this particular green color provided some connection between the two. Now, when I’m homing Airbnb guests in, I’ll just tell them “First green house on right” or “Second green house on right next to large brick house with wraparound porch” – nice and easy to direct.

The back and east side of Cottage East. In the distance you can see the Airstream, our other Airbnb project in progress.

Between that, and a lovely white fence along the front of our entire property (coming soon!), it will all look rather fabulous and welcoming.

Tearing off the old vinyl siding revealed the original fish scale siding beneath and boy, did it look beat up! Still, I wasn’t very surprised that the newer siding looked so bad. After all, they hadn’t even bothered pulling off the old siding, just nailed it up over the original fish scale. I talked with the owner and he assured me that they would take off the old stuff first before putting anything up.

And here she is. Done except for guttering. We will replace her small columns with bigger ones like we have on our house, removing the brick half columns. We will also paint the foundation white and all of the exterior doors white as well.

We did have to intervene at one point, because the crew that was there were working without the guy who did most of the translating. They started to cover up the old siding with the insulating boards and we told them “no” that it all needed to come off.

So that meant more than a day of extra work for them, most likely two. If it means that we have to pay more, so be it. I want the job done right.

The back porch. We will be clearing out all of the extra bricks, cleaning the yard, and eventually we will rebuild the back deck properly. As you can see, the back porch roof has been reinforced and wrapped in siding.

One piece that truly concerned me, as well as the foreman on the job, was the front porch. The porch was attached mainly to the bricks, which were now gone, and the gap in between the roof of the porch and the house was significant, at least 4-6 inches. The foreman kept saying, “I’m not sure what do with this porch” and I kept saying, “Talk to David” (the owner of the company). The owner was the one who talked me into taking the bricks off the front and back, so I figure it’s his problem to figure out how to stabilize the front porch.

After the 3rd rendition of “I’m not sure what to do with this porch” I looked at the foreman and said, “You’ve got me, I don’t do construction, I just pay the bills.”

The east side of Cottage East. Last year we laid these bricks down directly on the ground. We will pull them up, lay down paver base, and put the bricks back. Our neighbors are planning on installing a vinyl privacy fence on the property line. Hooray! A piece of fencing we no longer need to worry about!

Pretty soon after that I heard quite the bustle of activity. They were pulling off rotten wood off of the front porch and delving into the bowed and rotten ceiling – home to generations of squirrels and birds. Shredded newspaper and piles of old grass rained down with every board removed. The local squirrel population were undoubtedly pissed – goodbye winter home!

The view from our easternmost property line looking west towards our house. I hope to plant a nice tree in this triangle shaped front lawn. After we install the fence, I hope to landscape most of the front (no grass!) with a variety of heights of blooming plants and a solar-powered fountain. I’m leaning towards plants that are perennial and also more of the ones you will see in an English garden.

We still need to paint the portions of the front and back porch in white and also paint the foundation which is currently painted red. Once it is all done, it will look fabulous!

It is a labor of love. How do you make a difference? One little bit at a time. One flowering plant and painted door at a time. A walkway, a dream, a piece of garbage cleared from the path. Small steps, they lead to bigger steps and eventually to a dream realized.

We are still years away from being done. My body’s aches and pains remind me that this is work meant for 20 and 30 year olds, not a woman who will be 49 this year and has degenerative hip disease.

But that’s okay. I’ll take my time. A wheelbarrow full of bricks a day, 2-3 more feet of walkway laid each day, brush cleared and burned a little bit at a time.


It is so worth it!

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