Saturday, February 28, 2009

Historic Home damaged by hurricane!! Part 2 !!!

On the day work began on the old Victorian, the owner comes out with several shopping bags, I'm wondering what can be in these bags; they looked real old. As he explained to me, shortly after the hurricane hit, he went outside and gathered as many pieces of the debris that he could. If you have ever done a puzzle, you would know the type of pieces I'm referring to. I explained to him that these pieces simply wouldn't help. He said, "How do you plan on reproducing all the fancy scroll work that was mounted on top of the massive cable ends of this home?" This was an excellent question, seeing that these bags he had saved all these years seem to contain the only evidence of what the scroll work looked like.

However, age and time had left a silhouette on the large boards that this fancy work was mounted to. I used large sheets of clear plastic and push pins to hold the plastic onto the backing surface, which enabled me to trace an exact copy of what once was. I then cut the tracing out, making a stencil, which was later used to reproduce the scroll design. This was then mounted on the backing board, and Bingo, we had the old look back!!

Needless to say, the owner was quite happy, so he called the local newspaper. They came out and took pictures, and posted an article about this Historic Landmark. I hope to post that article, and pictures which I think will clearly show exactly what I'm referring to, as to the details of restoration.

This part of the project was just one segment of the challenges that awaited the home's restoration. Next, we needed to deal with structural issues, as the two stacked, open porches had severely gone out from their once level positions, and had sunk and racked out of alignment. How would we get them back in order, without causing further damage? More importantly... without them coming down to the ground in the process. To Be Continued!!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Historic Home damaged by hurricane!! Part 1!!!

In the 80's, I moved to a small city in Central Florida. One day, while driving down Main St., I noticed this very old, beautiful Victorian home. It was obviously damaged and missing the Ginger Bread trim, as it is called, which is the crowning glory of all authentic Victorians. This is one of the real workmanship components on an older home.

As I passed by, I told my children, who were in the car with me, that someday I would love to restore that home. As they say, be careful what you wish for, because you just might get your wish. And so I did. I got to meet with the owners, an elderly couple, who were two wonderful people. The gentlemen was a retired surveying engineer, and very concerned with the structural integrity of the home, as it had settled and visibly caved in in some areas. He stated that he waited for many years for me to arrive, almost knowing I was the man for the job, although we had not met before. Well, we stuck up quite a relationship over time, and he asked many questions of me about how I would do this project. Finally, he asked me to draw what I perceived to be the method and approach to re-stabilize his home.

Drawing is not my long suit; however, I fulfilled his wishes. Much to my surprise and delight, he was quite impressed with my drawing, which I still have to this day. After bartering price and cost, we agreed, and work began. Being a surveyor, he insisted on my wearing a hard hat; mine was orange, and his was white. (White hard hats are worn by the supervisors, orange by the workers. That's me.) I went along with most of his wishes, since he reminded me a lot of my Dad. They have their ways, but they know how to conduct a job, so I respected this.

By the way, as you might have read, I've been doing this for more than 35 years now, and generally don’t allow others to direct me in those areas that I excel at; however, there are exceptions to every rule, and this was one. To Be Continued!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Don't play with matches!!! Part 4

Once the home was well dried out from all the water, I began the restoration. As you can see in the pictures, the original attic had four Dutch dormers, as they are called, one on each side of the hip styled roof structure. I had to decide whether to retain the hip style or replace it with a full dormer with an A-frame type pitch.

Again, if you look at the pictures, you'll see that I went with the A-Frame type. The reason for this was to gain the full space of the attic, to be used as living space. The Dutch dormers look nicer from the exterior; however, they cut the interior space up in a way that doesn't allow for full use of the area. I also decided to add a full kitchen and bath; before the fire, this space was just used as a bedroom. Part of my reasoning for these decisions was that I intended to make rental units on each floor. Since the total area of the home after restoration was over 4500 sq. ft., it would have been difficult to find a renter who wanted or needed that much space. Turning the house into three large apartments of1500 sq. ft. (each the size of a modest single-family home) seemed to be a better option. I did this, and was able to generate a pretty good rental income.

This renovation took approximately seven to eight months to complete, a big part of which was waiting for everything to dry out. I must say that, while it is a huge undertaking to restore a fire project of this magnitude, the hard work always comes back to you through the great rewards and satisfaction of finishing the job.

The original owners showed up one day about a year later, and with tears in their eyes, they said, “Thank you, Bill, for putting our wonderful house back together”.

I thanked them back for the blessings that abounded because of it!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don't play with matches!! Part 3 !!!

After handing my business card to the owners and offering to help with the insurance process, I proceeded to help some tenants transport their belongings elsewhere. A short while later, the owners asked me to give them an estimate on protecting the home temporarily while the insurance people did their thing. This process can take time! The entire top of this home was now gone and exposed to the elements. I furnished them with two estimates, one for a temporary flat deck, and the other for an A-frame pitch type deck. I advised them that, in light of how long this home might sit, I would go with the A-frame type, even though it was a more expensive option. They did not want to spend the extra dollars on the A-Frame type, so I offered it at the same cost as the flat type, knowing there had already been enough damage done to this structure, and it was time for it to start drying. Needless to say they gratefully accepted my offer... and so we protected this beauty!

A few days later, I came home to find the owners in my living room. Well, to make a long story shorter, they asked me if I would consider buying their home, telling me that they were too old to deal with such a large renovation and wanted to move to California to be with their son. They made me an offer that could not be refused. This was a once in a life time deal!!! Kindness and generosity surely paid off, and so I bought the home and began the restoration.

Anyone who has ever worked on a fire job will tell you that you can't have enough clothes to finish the job, as they are trash until you get past the removal of all the charred timbers and debris. This was correct in this fire job, as well. We proceeded to completely remove all signs of fire damage. This is a tedious but very necessary process, which cannot and should not be overlooked or rushed. You can never get rid of the smokey smell from a fire without being thorough during this critical process. You need to allow time to let the space heaters do their job. The house needs plenty of heat and plenty of fresh air.

I will conclude the story very soon. See you then.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Don't play with matches! Part 2

The question is, why did the blaze rekindle? The answer is that during the period of construction in which the home was built, the exterior walls were framed by a method known as balloon construction. This simply means that the cavity between the 2x4 walls ran clear up from basement to attic, creating a draft much like the way a chimney works. If an ember remained inside this cavity where we have balloon construction, it could re-kindle, and the blaze could become very aggressive. This is what happened to this beautiful 1920's Classic. Today's construction differs in that each floor is stacked on a separate deck with wood plates separating each floor, thus acting as a fire stop.

The entire attic of the old house was lost to the blaze. Extreme water damage was incurred in order to extinguish the fire, causing severe damage to the rest of the structure. It has been said that, most times, the damage caused by the water far exceeds the fire damage. This was the case here. Now, the question that I had to ask myself was, could this classic be rehabbed and was it worth the effort and cost?

My conclusion, definitely YES!!!I will post more in the next blog.

Have a home improvment question?

If you would like me to post a blog on a specific question that you have, please send an email to

Also, I would be happy to answer privately if that would make you more comfortable.

See you in the next blog!

We would also be happy to help you with your home improvment needs in the Orlando Central Florida area and in Sarasota.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Don't play with matches! Part 1

Sometime in the mid 80's, while living in NY, I returned home from work, only to see the beautiful home across from my own in the early stages of destruction. A young boy, playing in the attic with matches, set a blaze to a charming home that had been built in the 1920's. Those were the days of true workmanship and pride, a time when things were built for practicality and endurance. The workmanship on this home was absolutely magnificent, inside and out. It had features you don't find in today's homes. It was a true classic.

Well, as things heated up, the fire grew so intense that the roof shingles melted into a tar liquid that began dripping off the roof edges and down the gutters. As it turned out, the Fire Department had to make two trips to extinguish this fire. The first time, they thought the blaze was out, but it reignited a short while later.

Welcome to my Blog!

I have been a carpenter for 35 years. It's hard to believe. I am one of the few lucky people that really do what they love for a living. In the '80's, I would buy historical homes that were usually in horrible condition and restore them back to pristine condition. These were always my favorite projects.

Many people feel that they can restore a home on their own, and this is true for some houses, but the older ones have so much more to them. The key is to restore to the way they would have looked in their prime. Nothing sickens me more then seeing a house that was so full of beauty from the 1800's or 1900's that has been made to look modern inside. It just doesn't fit. I specialize in older homes and homes that have been through a fire. A lot of times, people think there is no hope for homes that have been through a fire, but that isn't always the case.

In some of the following posts, I will show a few examples of homes I have restored. Please feel free to ask my advice if you have a home that is in need of extensive repair. That is one of the reasons that I created The Handi Craftsman Home Improvement Blog. Whether you are in Orlando, Sarasota, Central Florida, or anywhere else, I will do my best to answer your questions.

See you in the next blog!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ask for references!

I can't tell you how many times I have met someone who hired a contractor to work on their home, where the contractor started work, but never showed up again. There is a good reason why this happens. He is unreliable. Obvious answer, right?

Yes it is, but you would be surprised how many people do not bother to ask for (and take the time to call) references. If you decide to hire a contractor, ask them how long they have been in the area and to give you three references from their most recent jobs. Then call the numbers they provide you and, if possible, drive by and see what they did.

This takes a little bit of leg work, but it could end up saving you an arm.. and a leg!