Where do I start my Reno – Part Two.

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The complete renovation and or preservation of a house can only be accessed by the amount of work there is to do, and to what level of preservation you would like to attain. The exterior of the house should be tackled during the months of good weather, this is the basis of this episode/article in this three part series.

Plan repointing and paint work between the months of June and September. Interior work can be reserved for the winter months or inclement periods. Create a calendar or schedule and plot all work needing attention for the period of time you think your work will require. Try to stick to your schedule. You might even want to plan your vacation in order to use it to work on your home.

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Managing your roof and ground water is also very important to the health of your old house. Be sure your eaves-troughs are in good repair, including downspouts fitted with good extensions which should expel water on splash blocks to avoid soil erosion. And remember our first segment in our series – get the best roof you can afford to not allow water penetration and inevitable rot!

Deteriorating wood siding, mill-work, decorative columns, soffits and eaves should be restored at all costs, either by using a two-part epoxy such as Rhino Wood Repair, or by replacing the damaged area with an exact replica if badly decayed. Remember, all exterior wood should be primed and maintained on a regular basis to not have a re-occurrence of damage.

Repointing masonry work is also very important in order to keep moisture from spalling your masonry. Remember that only an all-lime mortar mix should be employed. Portland cement in any amounts will destroy hand-made-bricks, as it is far too hard and can create a whole host of problems in the future. Make certain that all flashing is in good condition – and replace if necessary.

Most wet basements can be attributed to poor management of roof and ground water. Never excavate a stone foundation to replace weeping tiles; the lime which was once part of the mortar will have long since leached off, leaving nothing more than a pile of un-bonded stones. Complete collapse can result if the foundation is excavated. Water management through properly working eaves-troughs and downspouts emptying into swales (small ditches) diverting water away from your home or into a dry-well, is the answer.

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The most character-defining elements of an old house are its windows and doors. Restore windows and doors using the same epoxy techniques mentioned earlier. Restore wood storms or learn to make them yourself.

An old wood window coupled with a well fitting wood storm are equal to or even more efficient than any vinyl or replacement window on the market. Missing hardware and period wood replacement doors for those uncharacteristic steel doors can be found at your local architectural salvage yards. The most important issue with respect to the health of your old house is to keep the water out.


Help Me! Where Do I Start My RENO!

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I get asked all the time by clients – how do I start my renovation? The most important document is a plan of renovation and preservation. Rather than bulldozing ahead and tearing-out remodeling of past owners and trying to renovate or preserve piecemeal, the home owner needs a written plan and a well thought out schedule before he or she starts the work.

Over the next three episode I will provide tips on how to start your renovation and what best methods to keep you on track. We have used this planning in all of our project houses and in new/old builds that I act as a deign/builder.

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In our first episode we will discuss the general things one should look out for when starting or even when looking at buying a fixer-upper – mainly concentrating on the interior as it is still cold in the northern hemisphere at the moment!

The second episode will tackle the exterior and the things you will need to look out for such as siding repair, masonry repointing, windows and doors – and that dreaded three letter word ROT!

The third and final episode in this series will be how to tackle the project in stages that will help your budget and your sanity – or in my case and possibly yours… my marriage!

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Lets get down to what to look out for on the interior, however I will bring in an important exterior item that should be always first on your list of repair and preservation!

The first thing that needs to be addressed is the structural integrity of the building. Are all beams, sill plates, wood lintels such as the headers over windows, doors and openings over weight bearing walls sound and free from rot?

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Is there any rot in structural posts where they meet the floor in the basement? Have any floor joists been unceremoniously cut or weakened by such things as plumbing and electrical runs? Have any weight-bearing walls or exterior walls been breached with openings which do not have proper lintels or beams to support the upper floors or structural masonry? Are stairs, guards and railings secured properly? Do they create a hazard?

These and many other structural issues need to be addressed prior to starting any other works. A professional structural engineer can be hired to assess and comment on these issues, and show how they should be remedied.

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The complete renovation and or preservation of a house can only be accessed by the amount of work there is to do, and to what level of preservation you would like to attain. The exterior of the house should be tackled during the months of good weather. Plan repointing and paint work between the months of June and September. Interior work can be reserved for the winter months or inclement periods, such as right now. Create a calendar or schedule and plot all work needing attention for the period of time you think your work will require. Try to stick to your schedule. You might even want to plan your vacation in order to use it to work on your home.

Once you have taken care of any structural issues and set out your schedule, look at the plumbing, heating and electrical systems. With respect to the plumbing plants, are they adequate? Are there old lead pipes (which are hazards to your health)? Plugged-up galvanized pipes or cracked and leaking cast iron and copper plumbing? Are all fixtures properly vented to the roof? Replace damaged plumbing as necessary and consider how you will address the bathroom and eventually the kitchen. Will you keep and make do with the existing fixtures?

Your best expenditure budget wise, is to replace decaying plumbing and restore the existing fixtures. Remember, if you are looking for a new bathroom, black, green, lavender, pink and powder blue of past fads go into the “what-were-we-thinking files?”. White never goes out of style!

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Is the electrical service up-to-date or is it the old glass fuse type or even worst knob and tube. This is a big undertaking and can be costly, get many quotes and make sure they replace any dangerous wiring. In most cases knob and tube isn’t inherently dangerous – it is usually the very odd things people do to the knob and tube wiring during renovation that causes a whole host of bodged up problems.

The heating systems in old houses are sometimes worn out; however, nothing beats an old cast iron radiator system for warmth and comfort. Most systems fail to work properly because they are not properly leveled, their pressure valves are stuck, and the system has not been filled and bled properly. Replacing an old worn-out boiler and stuck pressure valves may be more cost efficient than tearing out abandoned piping, leaving holes in your floors and tearing up ceilings and walls for duct work.


Inspect the floors for damage and rot, remove floor-boards which were removed for electrical installation when the house was initially electrified, and replace knob and tube system if present. You can usually see where the house has been electrified on the second level – as the floor boards in many cases have chisel marks along the side of the board where they were pried up. You can do the same to replace wiring without ripping out ceilings – Decide on the finish of the floor, hopefully you will decide on painted floors and simply repair damage with two-part epoxies such as Rhino Wood Repair.

Remember that excessive sanding of old pine floors will make them thin and unsafe. Heavy floor boards on earlier houses make up part of the structural system of the floor, and pine was always, historically, painted! Remember to paint yourself out and down the stairs. The stair should next get attention during your paint journey. Refit any loose rails, newel-posts or balusters.

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I cannot stress the importance of always beginning with the exterior of the house in the warmer weather and stopping any moisture issues first. Decorating and furnishing your old house is the last thing you should think of: pretty curtains and throw-rugs won’t stop a leaky roof. You should always start with your roof, and install the best roof that you can afford!

You may want hand-split cedar shingles; however, the cost of such a roofing endeavor might not allow you to spend money on other important items in making your house healthy. Moreover a 20-year guarantee on an asphalt shingle roof might last just long enough for the roof to be replaced (10 – 20 years later) with the roof of your dreams. And perhaps you can then afford that roof after you have put the rest of the house into good repair.



Free Picket Fence Plans

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By Dr Christopher Cooper

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This lovely 18th century house (circa 1716) is located north of Boston, Massachusetts. These images were taken in the early 1930’s and are a record of both the building and this most remarkable wood fence. I would surmise the fence would date from the mid 19th century, but it has a very Neoclassical flavour to the design so it could even be earlier.

The house survives today, however all of the 6/6 sash windows have been removed in favour of plastic, and sadly through road widening and poor maintenance, the fence, which was in fairly poor condition at the time the photos were taken, is a far distant memory. I have created a set of drawings in hopes to inspire the reader to recreate this historic landscape in their own front yard!

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The Plans

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Email us for higher resolution images.

The Details

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New Life for an Abandoned House

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On this episode of the Chris Cooper show I will introduce the second of our project houses. A long forgotten farmhouse built in 1837 located in Bright, just 5 minutes west of Cambridge, Ontario. This house will be meticulously brought back from the brink of abandonment and used as our Edifice Atelier Campus to train and instruct home owners and professionals on how to put these houses back together retaining all of its character and charm.

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Have you ever driven down that road, not knowing exactly where you are, not knowing exactly where you are going? You somehow stumble upon that gem, that little house that time and love have long since forgotten! It is love at first sight, you can see beyond the tumbled down fences, the dirty cracked windows, the rot, the neglect. You see that little place shining like a new dime – you see its potential, its inner beauty, what it once was, and what it could be.

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I have seen so many of these houses slowly becoming part of the landscape, crumbling to the earth merely becoming another nondescript, four-sided figure of stones on the ground that one needs to romantically imagine what humble or possibly monumental structure rose above these stones before it was sentenced to a slow death by decay.

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There are so many definitions of abandoned homes, a house is never truly abandoned, somebody, somewhere owns it. I have been working as an architectural restoration expert and educator for over three decades. I have witnessed many different levels of abandonment. From stone shells open to the blue sky above to heaps of graying timbers holding on for dear life attempting so very hard to stay vertical through the unforgiving summer’s sun and the cold damp of winter. However, every so often you find those houses that are just on the brink of becoming uninhabitable.


It seems to be a similar story whereas a house that has been loved and cared for suddenly becomes empty, sadly in most cases due to death. The family has moved on, all have their own new shiny houses, and really have no interest in fixing something that is considered old, antiquated and in need of much work. I guess modernity has made most not see past the tumbled down fences, the dirty cracked windows, the rot, the neglect. And sadly there it sits worth more as land than as a tangible home that once was filled with laughter and love.


This brings us to our story, the story of Stan Lillico, an old fellow who had passed away in 2002 in his 92nd year. As Stan was a confirmed bachelor he had no reason to modernize his untouched 1837 Neoclassical farmhouse or update any fixtures or decorating etc. that were still working, old-fashioned or not. The house has stood empty and going through the stages of abandonment and most likely inevitable demolition.

When I first entered the house I was amazed at how original it was even down to the kitchen coated in layer after layer of green paint – you know… that green paint that every farm house kitchen was painted from coast to coast.

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The kitchen had no running water – just a porcelain sink with a hand pump – of course painted in the same green paint.

Much of the wallpaper is from the last major renovation that took place in 1912 when our Stan Lillico was born. The house has a patina over all the walls and woodwork of nearly two centuries of soot from wood burning stoves.

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The house has amazing features including all of its 6/6 windows and even the original 1912 bathroom – we have done a lot of work over the past few years to open our Edifice Atelier to teach home owners and professionals these amazing crafts.


I think what sets us apart from other schools is that we have a house filled with the same problems faced by people who want to buy an old farm house but just don’t know where to start. Therefore the most important part of our workshops and training is that it is set in the real world of hands-on education. You get to really work on restoring things – like plaster, old windows, doors as well as learning the crafts of providing character and quality to a vintage home.

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No one will ever know the laughter and the memories forged in this house if it becomes another statistic of lost architectural folk art. Yes the fences are tumbled down, the windows are dirty and its nearly 200 year old glass is cracked in a few places and yes there is plenty of rot. But what of bringing this house back to a beautiful home (or in this case an international learning institute) to live on for another 200 years? We are up to the task set before us – are you up to the task to follow our journey as we so very carefully strip back the layers of decay to put back all the lovely detail and architectural beauty this house has to offer? We hope to forge new memories, new laughter and a new chapter in the history book of this house.