Saturday, August 7, 2010


Corrugated wells protect the windows and foundations from excessive moisture.

Newly replaced basement window with older cement well.

New egress window allows basement bedroom to be legal and easy access for escape for firefighters in the event of a fire.

Another benefit of the egress window (shot from inside the basement) is allowing for additional light. It's no longer dark and gloomy down there.

The egress window in the basement was installed this week. This is the first step in the addition of a new bedroom downstairs--an actual restoration of the once-finished space below the kitchen and dining room.

It's always fascinating to learn about the history of a house. I think I have written about receiving a note in my mailbox from a previous owner of the house who occupied it and presided over its modernization and expansion from 1976 to 2001. She was curious to see what the house looked like inside today. I called her back and invited her over. Roughly my age, and very curious about old houses, I took her through the rooms. Memory plays tricks and some things looked very familiar and other things were harder to recall. She told me they had purchased the house in 1976 for $25,o00! It had two bedrooms. The master was downstairs and is now the guest room. There was a larger room upstairs which has now been divided into a much smaller bedroom--now my office, the landing sitting room (where I read and watch TV), and the laundry room.

She was much taken with the finishes in the living room, guest room and guest bathroom downstairs which have this beautiful crown molding, installed by the previous owners. She remembered the guest bathroom, but didn't recall it having a claw foot tub. She told me the living room had black walls (they are now a toasty light brown). She surprised me by saying she and her husband had added the addition to the back of the house, including an expanded foundation, the kitchen and dining area and the master bedroom, closet and bath with the wide balcony off the master bedroom. The master closet had changed with the addition of some California Closet-style storage additions, and the master bath was completely reconfigured. It had a shower stall now rather than a tub. The double sinks with matching medicine cabinets were new and in new positions (there was a single sink on the other side). The previous owners had added a roof covering to the balcony.

It turns out they had also added a mudroom to the entry. The Dutch door was the original front door. The kitchen had also received some renovation with new appliances (so that awful dishwasher isn't her fault!), new granite counter tops, slate backsplash, and alder wood cabinets (some of the old cabinets have been recycled into storage space in my garage).

When we went down to the basement, she said, "Oh, this room was finished." They had turned it into a family room. Now it was taken down to the cement foundation. Kyle had told me there had been some water damage because there was evidence of it being fixed. All the electrical outlets, framing, insulation, etc., had been removed. All that remained was air and heating ducts and some framing near the stairs and in the bathroom. All that was left of the old bathroom was a non-working toilet and a shower stall. Before I heard about this, I was confused about Kyle's claim of water damage. The man who inspected my house didn't tell me there had been evidence of damage. It made me wonder when it had happened. The very harsh winter of 2008 may have been the culprit. At Christmas time the city was hit by a rare series of big snow storms, which closed the airport and kept people trapped at home for several weeks. There were three old windows in the basement where you could see outside in-between the window and the side frames. I wondered if there had been leaks. There were also two wide, but short vinyl windows downstairs that meshed with the vinyl windows in the rest of the house (installed by the previous owners), yet all the basement windows besides the two new ones, were old and in bad shape. Last July, I had three of those windows replaced. I had the final two, which were probably new to the addition, replaced when I installed the new egress window. The other evidence of a bad leak was the illegal addition of a drainpipe, which captures all the rain water hitting the roof of the house (considerable as this is Portland), and carries it out to the sewer. I'll bet the previous owner did that to make sure there would be no future leaking, and I now have to set that right because it is against city code. It also makes sense as to why they were selling the house. They had plenty of room even with the arrival of their first baby (they said they wanted a one-level house).

There was also something of a sinkhole in the backyard near the back fence. I thought maybe it once held an oil tank of some sort--perhaps when the house was heated by oil. But no--there had been a large maple tree there. Kyle has already filled it once, adding gravel as foundation before adding more dirt and sod and it has sunk a bit again. So I'll have to reinforce it again so that it is level with the rest of the small lawn that is left after the addition of the new brick patio.

I'm now reasonably assured that I've slowly brought the house back with the reinstatement of this once finished basement room, which will provide a private haven for a possible roommate or an additional guest room. I'm adding value with the restoration of a fourth bedroom and a third bath.

I was told at one point the house had been in foreclosure. The owner said she had bought it form a developer who had purchased the foreclosure. All this had given me a clearer picture. I wondered how such an extensive renovation of the house could have been accomplished by the previous owners at a profit. It turns out that their improvements had been mostly cosmetic with the exception of rewiring of the house and the extensively updated electricity (the former owner was a highly skilled electrician who did a superb job, acknowledged without my prodding by the house inspector, and every handyman and repairman who has come through the house since I bought it).

At one point, a tax assessor arrived at my home last September. I had been advised not to admit any tax assessor into my home. She did however look at the house from outside, and said at one point, "that addition looks new." I assured her it was not. Now I know it was done in 1997, and if I get a big increase in my taxes this year, I'm hollering my head off to the city tax collector.

I've already made extensive changes, not so much in structure, but in cosmetic upgrades to the house. The floors look better. There's a gorgeous new patio out in the back yard. The front, side and back gardens are getting made over, and there is new paint, some new fixtures, window treatments, a new garage door, and other upgrades that make the house even more livable. I'll stop after the basement renovation is done. Hopefully it will be all maintenance after that.

But I'm thrilled to know more about the history of this house, built in 1938, and I'll be able to pass along this history to the next owner.

Those large leaves you see are cucumbers, which are now just coming in.

Baby cukes!

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