Exterior & Garden The Victorian House

Old Houses are Fun

We’re nearing the last days of temperatures climbing up into the sixties and seventies, so we’ve been getting some maintenance taken care of outside. A couple of windows on the south side of the house needed new sills, one new plinth, and a storm window repaired. We took down a planter beneath our main living room window to get to some of the areas in need of attention. We’ll hang on to it should we ever decide to rehang the thing and actually plant some annuals in it, but that’s why the siding looks a little funny there.

Peeling Paint

Did you catch the nice bit of peeling paint there toward the bottom? (It’s, uh, hard to miss.) We diverted our heating exhaust out of the side of the house last year when we replaced the boiler, but now there’s steam hitting the house off and on all day, everyday from October through March when the heat is on. The chimney is shot (which we knew about from the start), so we opted for the new vent when we upgraded to a high-efficiency unit that ties into our hot water system, but the steam caused some paint to peel near the hose spigot. The rest held because it’s relatively new siding (20 years old), but the original stuff was coming off in sheets.

The old paint was scraped off down to the bare wood, then repainted. We’ll see how it holds through the winter. The rest of the house is fine, so hopefully the new paint will last, but if not, we’ll have to see about changing the exhaust vent somehow. And the you can see one of the windows that were repaired there, too. Except, oops, wrong purple. There are seven colors of paint on the house (two purples, three taupes, a pink, and a teal), and sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re putting the wrong one up because the shades are similar, and paint always looks different when it’s wet. The correct color will go on today or tomorrow.

Repairs on the Side of the House

We hired someone for the repairs since I’m still on kid + baby duty while Brandon is recovering from his surgery. We also had part of the front porch screwed down where it had popped up, which now feels nice and sturdy. Then work started on the railing out front. There was a small spot that had sunk in, about the size of a quarter — maybe a smidge bigger. We knew that meant there was some wood rot, but we didn’t know the extent of it until work was underway.

Wood Rot in the Front Porch Railing

Yikes. It’s a relatively easy fix, at least, though it takes some time. Scrape out all of the bad stuff to start, and let it dry (moisture was getting in and causing the damage). Then you come back and fill it all in with epoxy, molding it as best you can to the right shape. Let that dry, sand it down, then coat the whole repair job in paint. We need another coat on there, but you can tell it’s way better already.

Wood Rot in the Front Porch Railing

Eventually the chimney I mentioned will need to be addressed. Either tuckpoint it again (apparently it has been done multiple times already) and hope it holds now that it is no longer in use, or remove the whole thing and either rebuild it (for aesthetics?) or extend the siding and pretend it was never there. Not looking forward to all of that, but we’ll likely give tuckpointing one last try.

A Very Old Chimney in Need of Some Repair

The downspout up there has separated from the gutters way up there, which is also being fixed this week. It’s doing something to the windows, so there may be a bit more damage to repair in that area, too. Just doing our best to keep up with the old gal.

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  • Laura (LK Art)
    October 26, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Autumn seems to be a big season for home structure repairs – we’re having our gutters replaced this week and spent the last weekend putting new insulation in the attic and crawlspace and trying to seal lots of drafty cracks.

    Question: did the previous homeowners leave you extra paint for your exterior? Or, how did you know what the exact shades of purple were? Seems like that would be really hard to match!

  • Amanda
    October 26, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    As an old-home owner I love seeing these posts. These old gals are high maintenance!

  • Kerri
    October 26, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Your post title is exactly what my husband and I say about our house all the time. My chimney needs repairs similar to yours, and unfortunately ours still vents our hot water heater. I think we will be replacing the heater soon… then just do away with the chimney. I’d be interested to know more about what happens with yours when the time comes!

  • Kelly
    October 26, 2015 at 2:55 pm

    When dealing with wood rot like that, it also helps to use wood hardener on the wood that adjoins the rotted out sections (once you’ve scraped out the rot but before you add the filler). Also if a piece is just starting to rot, sometimes, soaking the area with wood hardener, caulking, and painting it will let you put off a larger repair for a couple of years (your railing was too far gone, though — you did the right thing.)

    Also, water putty is cheap and it has a weird name, but it works great as a wood filler. You can sand and shape it and it’s very hard and durable — just wanted to throw that out there in case anyone has an old house on a budget like I did!

    I love old houses like yours but it takes some serious commitment to deal with all of the maintenance and quirks! I applaud you for taking such good care of this beauty!

  • judy
    October 26, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    It surprises me at how calm you are about all of the expense and even worry that comes with old and even some newer houses(they don’t build them like they used to is 100% right.) One of the things we learned about brick and I’m sure you already know is the outside is hard and durable but the inside is kind of crusty and crumbly -I think the term is spalling or something like that and many of your chimney bricks seems to have progressed to that sad state. Any Hoo Batten down the Hatches Nicole the winter coming is sposed to be a doozy!

  • Sandy
    October 26, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    We just had the same issue with our chimney on our 1924 arts and crafts home. What made the decision for us to have rebuilt was somewhat scary — fallen bricks into the yard and on our deck. Like you, we are outside a lot and have young children. It wasn’t the most glamorous way to spend our money but we decided it was the safest.

    • Making it Lovely
      October 26, 2015 at 10:25 pm

      That does sound scary. Ours is not at that point yet, thankfully, but you can see by looking at it that it isn’t in the best of shape. Was/is your chimney still in use? When the time comes to make a decision about ours, I’m not sure if we should keep it for looks, or just take it down. I imagine cost will be a major deciding factor.

      • Sandy
        October 27, 2015 at 6:45 pm

        Ours was still in use, but we recently decided to update our old (original to the house and once fired by coal!) boiler. We upgraded to a propane fired boiler and have saved so much money. Having the chimney rebuilt was easier than addressing ripping it down when it came to placement and the facade of the home. Old homes are gruelling and many people want to know why bother? I think the folks who built our houses would be happy to see them cared for.

  • jenw
    October 27, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Gotta love homeownership! Good luck with the chimney!

    P.S. While this was not a “glamorous” post it was a REAL post that most of us can relate to in some way. I like it!

  • Anna
    October 27, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    We also own an oldish duplex (1926) and it always seems that we rush towards the end of fall to address all of the exterior issues before winter sets in!
    For the chimney, I noticed that some of the bricks’ facing was missing. This usually indicates that the mortar that is in place is too strong for the type of brick: water/water vapour is passing through the brick itself instead of going through the mortar! When repointing, make sure that the type of repointing mortar used is adequate (refer to a sales rep, though I am not sure who is available in Chicago!)
    I would also check the top of the chimney to ensure that water isn’t penetrating into the brick wall — ensure all of the joints are solid and sealant is in place.

    Good luck!

  • Caitlin
    October 28, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    I have grand dreams of owning an old home. There’s so much maintenance that comes with home ownership. But, man, there are certain subtle differences when it’s an older home like yours. Something to keep in mind for sure :)

  • Amy
    October 29, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Our house is about 60 years old and had a chimney but now is heated with electric forced air (not a big fan). The chimney came up through the middle of the house and at some point previous owners knocked it down so it doesn’t come up through the roof anymore. If you go into the attic you can see the top of it. Kind of weird…

  • Tiffany
    October 31, 2015 at 8:26 am

    I have to admit I am jealous of the exterior work you’ve been able to do! Our old home is from 1890 and we have a ways to go until we can really tackle allllll the exterior work needed…blergh!
    You guys have kept up a good pace with your new to you place. Hopefully we’ll catch up someday :) It’s funny though with old homes how “new” ideas seem to cause them “new” idea problems. Hope the paint holds up and you don’t have to worry about it.

  • lisa
    November 3, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    If you’re concerned about preserving the history of your home, please don’t remove the chimney. It’s a key element of the facade. Does your neighborhood have a historic overlay? If so, you’d probably have to get permission to remove it.

  • A Porch for Cozy Outdoor Entertaining – Making it Lovely
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