Saturday, April 20, 2013

Third Time's the Charm!

Out of curiosity, I had to go back and look...

April 20, 2011 - I epically claim, using a picture of Scarlett O'Hara defiantly reclaiming her decimated family farm for visual support, that we will NEVER be cold in our Vermont house again.

March 19, 2012 - A direct quote... "This abnormally early and warm spring feels like a little gift of sympathy handed directly to Tony and I. We will no longer have to toil in aching cold. Even though I said last April we'd never be cold again, I mean it this time!!"

February 3, 2012 - If I created a word cloud of our previous post, words like 'cold', 'uncomfortable', 'frozen' and 'human icicles' (a personal favorite) would just be jumping right off the screen and smacking me upside the head for my inability to ever learn the rules of renovation.

Three winters in this house, and three winters without heat! Is it even remotely sensible to claim that we will NEVER be cold in the farmhouse again, after three straight winters of a swing and a miss?? I don't know, but all signs point to a heating system at some point this summer, so here I am, I'm going to say it...

After working through three winters with NO heat in the farmhouse, we WILL have heat by next winter! We will NEVER be frozen in that VT farmhouse again!

Well isn't this a familiar sight...

There, I said it. But in the meantime, let me tell you about how cold we were during our last visit and about all of the fun and miraculous labors we managed to pull off despite the snow drifts and frozen fingers and toes.

Interior Repairs

Interior repairs continued to be the name of the game, as I was obviously not getting any sanding or painting done with a foot of snow on the ground. Tony and I went up to the house in mid-March hoping to see little to no snow on the ground. How disappointed yet unsurprised we were to find the yard covered in a nice new layer of fresh snow, and the interior temperature of the house hovering somewhere in the 'below freezing' zone. After pouting and cursing these endless VT winters for a few minutes, we lit a fire in the stove; while Tony developed a game plan for the weekend, I was equally busy letting my pants catch on fire/work boots melt as they warmed up next to the wood stove. Apparently I've spent too much time away from the house recently as I seem to have forgotten some basic rules, such as - don't leave your clothes to warm directly on the stove for as long as you well please. One way to take care of the winter chills up there? Flaming pants.

We've finally reached the LAST of the rotten beams...

 It's been a long haul, but it looks as though we are finally reaching the last of our major interior repairs. Aside from a little window work (installing the upstairs bath window, and switching the small window in the dining room with a full-size one in the kitchen), we were really down to one last repair - changing out the rotten corner wall studs that framed out the doorway to the back hall, but more importantly support a load-bearing corner of the roof. This is what this corner looked like when we first bought the house:

At the time I was completely intimidated by this gaping hole into nothingness. I didn't know what had caused it or how we we'd go about repairing it. Little did I know then that every single wall would be coming down eventually... no walls  = no holes = no problem!

When we took the plaster down last summer, we discovered a crazy amount of wood rot thanks to an old leak in the roof, which has since been repaired. Now that Tony has become a master rebuilder of rotten door frames, we assumed this would be an easy fix once we got around to it. After taking some photos in order to speed up the rebuilding process, we cut out the rotten wood. Boy was there plenty of it...

Out comes a giant conglomeration of wall studs...

So far, everything was going according to plan. Then, as we went to take some measurements for the new framing, we realized one unfortunate fact. This entire corner support has been sitting on... nothing... since some time last year. Specifically, since Tony and I cut out the rotten wood downstairs and installed that wood beam running across the dining room ceiling. The same 16 ft. beam we sadly realized we'd have to take down because it wasn't wide enough and had already begun bowing in the middle, therefore offering absolutely no support to the ceiling above. 

With heavy hearts, we realized that rebuilding this doorframe just became harder. Way harder...

Before we could put this framing back in, we needed to take down the 16 ft. beam downstairs, and somehow manage to install our new 16 ft. long, 6 inch wide beam... by ourselves, with no help. The same beam that we had cut at the sawmill last summer which required 3 burly men to lift just to get it on top of the car. Here we stood, the two of us versus this monster; unless we found a way to get this puppy up in the air and in place, we couldn't move on to do anything else. And so, we strategized...

Brute strength was not an option, so we had to rely on the power of our ingenuity. Tony created a new plan for notching the giant 16 ft. beam with the lovely aged barn beams we currently had holding up each corner of the old, flimsy support beam. He made some lovely custom cuts, and with a hammer and chisel we put some sweet notches into each end of the beam.

Then, mixing strength with some well-placed pieces of furniture, we slowly propped the beam up higher and higher into the air, raising it in turns just a little bit on each side. We eventually got it to look like this, and were beside ourselves with pride:

Lifting this beam was our Stonehenge

With the beam propped up in the air, we used house jacks to help finish lifting it (not seen in this photo) and also to keep it securely in place while we hammered the hell out of the side support beams. Getting these beams into a level upright position took hours of hammering and lifting of the ceiling with the house jacks, perhaps with a curse thrown in here and there. By the end of Saturday evening, we had made one serious mess but had the beam securely in place. Somehow we had made the impossible, possible! I was beside myself with pride at what we two crazy kids can pull off when we put our minds to it. Do, or do not. There is no try.

She's up and she's here to stay!

Having this giant, faded, hand-cut beam running across the ceiling looks amazingly awesome, but is a little hard to appreciate seeing as how all you see is wood EVERYWHERE you look. Once we have drywall up and leave these wood beams exposed, it's going to be a stunner, mark my words. 

Unfortunately the next day was basically spent cleaning up the mess we made downstairs installing that bad boy, so we didn't get around to installing the wood framing upstairs. What started out as a seemingly simple repair once again turned into an epic feat of restoration, in classic If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fashion, but it was well worth it. The next and last beam will be installed near the back of the kitchen once the plumbing is all finalized. Now that the weather is thawing, we hope to get our plumbers back in the house asap to finish their repairs so we can finally get some water flowing into this house!!

 We'll be returning to VT next weekend with family and friends, where I will begin doing a little handiwork outside while Tony finishes up some of these repairs inside. Expect another update shortly! With grad school finally coming to a close in just ONE month, our time at the farmhouse should pick up significantly in the near future :)

For now, we bid a fond farewell to another Vermont winter and ready ourselves for the warming temperatures and budding trees of spring! I'll welcome these beautiful snowy days in another 7 months when I have a warm and toasty farmhouse to ramble about in.

Be gone, you charming, snowy days...

Stay tuned for lovely spring photos where the color palate won't be comprised of brown, brown and more brown. Until next time, thanks for reading!
- Melissa


  1. Whoa. Cool project, guys. Can't wait to see how this thing comes together. That beam looks pretty intense for two people to place on their own.

    1. Hey Reuben! Thanks for writing. We're glad to see people out there actually read this thing haha. Send any input along when you have it! After slowly dismantling this house for two years, we are hoping this will be the summer when we really start to make it look like something special again.

      We'll be up there every other weekend this summer so please keep checking back!

  2. I just love this blog! I like looking at old farm house restorations, and my Grandfather was born in Vermont so this is an extra facinating project to read about. Can't wait to see what you get up to this summer!

    in Ottawa, Canada

    1. Thank you, Elisabeth! Such a sweet comment, and we love the positive reinforcement :) Vermont is such a lovely state... it feels like a second home now! We're going to be working our tails off this summer... have to take advantage of that tiny window of warm weather. Keep checking back, and we'll try not to disappoint!