After all the furnace excitement lately, John and I needed a break from dealing with our cold-weather house issues.
We decided to go out last Saturday afternoon/evening for a movie and dinner (in that order). Seeing an afternoon matinee means we save money on the ticket price, and going to dinner after instead of before means we don’t have to keep our babysitter on duty too late. Another incentive for a date afternoon/evening: we hadn’t gotten around to celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary yet, which was back in January! Better late than never. And after shelling out thousands of dollars for a new heating and cooling system, a simple movie and dinner celebration fit right into our budget.
We saw Non-Stop at our local downtown movie theater – nothing like a good Liam Neeson mystery-action flick to escape reality for a couple of hours! While we waited for the movie to begin, I took a few interior photos of the theater (which you may have seen if you follow us on Instagram). Classic art deco lighting and decor.
After the movie, we had some time to kill before our dinner reservation, so we stopped at the Book Table, a local independent bookstore, to poke around for a while.
We found ourselves gravitating toward the architecture section, where there was a nice selection of books on old house styles and designs.
Some of these were so cool, with old illustrations of floor plans for houses just like ours! We were tempted to buy one, but stuck to our post-furnace budget, and we left with the latest issue of This Old House magazine instead.
Next it was on to dinner. I’m on a mission for us to try as many local restaurants as possible, even though we already have several favorite spots around town. I made reservations at Autre Monde, a Mediterranean cafe a few blocks from our house that’s been recommended by friends. It’s a little pricier than we’d usually go for, but since this is our anniversary dinner, we splurged a little (and saving money on a matinee helped).
Oh my stars, it was delicious! To start, John ordered a classic old-fashioned, and we got several plates to share, including a cold pita and hummus plate and a hot potato frites appetizer.
For his main dish, John got gnocchi with duck sausage, which was so good. But I think the favorite of the night was the special I ordered: squid-ink pasta with lobster, scallops, and shrimp.
John actually made me squid-ink pasta for one of our early dates several years ago, so it was nice to be reminded of that for our anniversary dinner. We both agreed that Autre Monde’s version was amazing, and now we’re inspired to make it at home again.
We got home around 8pm, sent the babysitter home (the toddler was all tucked in bed and dreaming away), and spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the couch and digesting our celebratory meal. We even brought leftovers home to enjoy the next day, which was a great treat and kept me energized as I worked on sorting through old paperwork for our home office project. I’ve got more paperwork sorting and purging to do this week, as we try to stay on track for a self-imposed early-April deadline to finish this room.
Did you do anything fun this past weekend?
P.S. Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram to see these and more of our around-town photos!
A quick note about our furnace troubles: we’re all okay and our house is warm again! It took a few days, but we finally got our new heating and cooling system installed. We’ll post more details soon – John is still tweaking the settings for how the new high-efficiency 2-stage furnace works with our thermostat, but so far we are liking it and very happy to not be wearing coats and hats indoors anymore.
Last week’s furnace breakdown temporarily diverted our attention from other house projects. But this weekend, we dug in deep on the first stages of our home office designing/organizing project. First on our to-do list is the decidedly unglamorous task of going through mounds of old paperwork we’ve accumulated over the years. John and I have our own separate file cabinets full of semi-necessary papers that we are finally combining after three years of marriage. As part of this process, we’re getting rid of out-of-date and long-expired documents like statements for bank accounts we no longer have, old notes from college classes taken long ago, and copies of paystubs from the 1990s.
We’re consolidating and organizing the really important documentation that pertains to our life right now, and purging things from the past that are just taking up space. We want this home office space to be as streamlined and efficient as possible, and to be able to expand with our interests and family. In other words, it’s a huge undertaking.
Right now, the office looks like a massive clutter junk bomb exploded in here. It’s definitely not pretty or well-organized. Despite this, we do feel like we’re making progress – separating things to recycle, shred, donate, and sell.
John has set up our two Billy bookcases in here and started (very loosely) arranging our art and design books. In our mood board, we’d envisioned painting these white, but I think that will come a little later. For now, we’re just getting all the furniture pieces in place before customizing them.
Here’s our task list for this project:
- Unpack all boxes, organize and/or purge paperwork – IN PROGRESS
- Store books and supplies in the Billy and Expedit units, and find baskets to tuck things away out of sight – IN PROGRESS
- Set up the work stations with our computers, desk chairs, peripherals, etc. – IN PROGRESS
- Add a light fixture and maybe a ceiling medallion
- Find window treatments (blinds and curtains)
- Build a window seat with storage and a cushion
- Create a mobile station/cart for John’s sewing machine and supplies
- Include a “design lounge” corner for relaxation and inspiration
- Refurbish our found metal cabinet
So that’s where we are so far with this home office project. Our goal is to get this room done by early April. It’s an ambitious timeline – I’m not sure we’ll get everything on our list accomplished during our free evenings and weekends in the next six weeks – but we’re very eager and motivated to start using this space purposefully. Although the paperwork purge is taking longer than I thought, so we’ll see!
And while it’s not looking very functional right now, I know all this mess will lead us to a much more tidy place down the road. We’ll keep you posted on our progress!
What home projects do you have planned this spring?
Winter continues to persevere around these parts, and we’ve had a sudden and unplanned acceleration in our quest to improve our home’s energy efficiency. Earlier this week, our old furnace fought what turned out to be its final valiant battle against the cold. And this time, the cold won.
On Tuesday evening, the toddler was in her crib sound asleep, and John and I were just sitting down to dinner. Everything was humming along as usual, when suddenly we heard a series of BOOMS coming from the basement. John ran down the basement stairs and immediately guessed that there was something wrong with the furnace. We weren’t sure what the problem was, but since our furnace is gas-powered and we wanted to prevent a potentially dangerous situation (fiery explosion? carbon monoxide poisoning?), we decided to be safe and turn it off completely.
Luckily, John didn’t have to stay in the basement to manually turn off the power. Thanks to our smart thermostat, he was able to use his phone to do this from the relative safety of the main floor.
He called a local heating and cooling service company right away. We know this company has serviced our particular furnace in years past (there’s a log report pasted onto the front) but we haven’t worked with them personally yet. We’d been planning to schedule a yearly cleaning and maintenance visit, but just hadn’t made that call yet. Well, no time like the present!
On the phone, John described what he saw and heard, and the repair guy thought it sounded like some build-up inside was interfering with the ignition somehow. But they couldn’t come out to fix it until the next day. We didn’t want to turn the furnace power back on in the meantime, though. So since the overnight low temperature in our area was forecasted to be in the single digits, we hunkered down and prepared ourselves for a cold night with extra blankets and double socks. We also turned on the faucets to prevent pipes from freezing. Despite the gradually increasing chilly air, we all slept well and kept warm.
The next morning, we ate breakfast in our wool sweaters and hats. Then I took the toddler to her nice warm school and myself to my nice warm office, while John stayed bundled up in our (now 45-degree) house to wait for the repairman.
The guy arrived around noon and got to work inspecting our 25-year-old beast.
He found the furnace’s heat exchanger was severely rusted and nearly inoperable. It was overheating, retaining heat too much and for too long, and this has been causing something called “flame roll out.” That was the BOOMS we heard coming from the basement. Basically, his verdict was that we’d need a new furnace. Immediately. And a new air conditioner.
Not surprising news, but not exactly welcome news either. We were hoping to at least finish out the winter with this furnace, but apparently it is not to be. The “flame roll out” is pretty serious, and can result in carbon monoxide poisoning. In fact, the repairman said our furnace is the worst he’s seen this season. Ouch!
So John spent the rest of yesterday researching furnaces and getting estimates for a new heating and cooling system. He wore his winter coat and hat inside and set up space heaters for himself and our cat.
We got several estimates, but felt really comfortable and confident with one company’s proposal. So we ended up signing a contract with them, and scheduled the installation for Thursday and Friday (today and tomorrow). Then we decamped to my parents’ house for a nice warm sleepover – we didn’t want to attempt another cold night in our own house without a furnace!
The new furnace and air conditioner will be a huge upgrade from our old system, which the repairman said wasn’t even very good by 1989 standards (the year it was installed). Even though it’s a lot of cost up front, we’re looking forward to seeing some significant savings on our energy bills after this.
Today’s lesson learned: get your furnace cleaned and serviced every year. If we had done this earlier in the winter, we might have seen this problem coming and been able to prepare a little better. We’ll keep you posted about how the installation goes, and hopefully our house will be back to its toasty self by this weekend. Brr!
There are so many pros to buying an old house (charm, character, even the doorknobs). But there are drawbacks, too, and a big one is the lack of modern insulation.
We didn’t really notice any issues with our house’s energy efficiency when we first moved in last spring – the rooms felt comfortably well-cooled by our central air conditioning during the warmer weather. But now that we’re enduring the 5th snowiest winter in Chicago, we’re really feeling (and seeing!) the effects of having a minimally-insulated 1920s house.
We can’t see behind our walls, but we suspect there is no insulation at all inside, a common practice at the time our house was built. If any insulation at all was used, it was possibly horsehair and newspaper. Either way – not only are these methods not very effective at protecting the inside from outside elements by today’s energy standards, but any old insulation materials have probably disintegrated to some degree over the last 90+ years anyway.
So in other words, our house has been pretty cold this winter. We were able to address this somewhat with our thermostat and humidifier upgrades, and John also proactively filled a lot of cracks in our stucco exterior with flexible caulk last summer.
But we still notice a lot of heat escaping throughout the house. We know that the attic isn’t particularly well-insulated, and the effects of this can be seen in the melting-snow-turned-ice along the roof line and down our gutters.
Our house’s interior walls along the outside perimeter are cold to the touch. We’ve been keeping blinds and curtains closed on the windows to try and trap any drafts. And some rooms of the house we’ve just closed off. For example, the toddler’s playroom, which I painted last year, feels like a walk-in freezer – there are no heating/cooling vents running into this room, and it’s unfortunately been too cold in there to be usable this winter. So that door stays shut.
Despite these measures, our heating bill ran into the several hundred dollars last month(!). It’s been a particularly cold and brutal winter, yes – but a lot of it has to do with our poorly insulated house.
So we’re thinking about long-term solutions to improve the energy efficiency of our home. For one thing, our furnace is over 20 years old – it’s not running so smoothly (we can hear it noisily laboring to power itself on and off in the basement, even from up on the second floor) and will need to be replaced in the next few years. But in the meantime, we’re making an appointment to have it cleaned and serviced. Furnace maintenance should be performed on a yearly basis (preferably before the cold season starts) but it kind of slipped our minds until now (slap on our new homeowner wrists!). John has even noticed a residue buildup lately, so we’re going to get this looked at sooner rather than later.
We’ve also scheduled a home energy audit. This will give us a clearer picture of the areas of our house that need attention, and what our options are to address any problems. Even though our house has been well-maintained structurally over its lifetime by various previous owners, it’s still got a lot of typical issues that you’d expect in a house this age. It’s a little scary to think what the home energy auditor will find, but we are definitely curious to see some hard facts, and our long-term goal is to find the right balance between one-time costs (for any upgrades) and recurring costs (like our monthly/yearly energy bills).
Have you ever had an energy audit of your home? What did they find/recommend?
(Update: Read about how our furnace actually died only a few days after writing this post. Oh, the irony!)
(linked on Remodelaholic)
As you know, we try to find a balance between modernizing the look and functionality of our home and preserving its original 1920s historical features. In other words, we want to redesign it to be our own special place, but still respect its past “lives.” Sometimes in this journey, we find ourselves stuck between two different paths. Today, we’re stuck on doorknobs.
Almost every interior door in our house has these old glass doorknobs. I have no idea if they’re original to the house or not. But I did a little research, and glass doorknobs seem to have been popular during the time our house was built. An article in This Old House talks about how glass became a common material for doorknobs during World War I because metal was needed for ammunition and other wartime supplies. So it’s quite possible that these doorknobs of ours have lived in our house all along.
When we first viewed the house and saw all these doorknobs, my initial reaction was “Well, these will definitely have to go.” Our real estate agent thought I was nuts, and said so. But the thing is… I don’t know if they’re my thing.
They remind me of doorknobs I’ve seen throughout the years in elderly relatives’ homes. To me, they feel dated, ancient, and overly decorative. I’m not in love with the brassy backplates either. Especially since our own interior design sensibilities lean more toward modern and simple fixtures that seem to fit with the strong Craftsman lines of our home.
And our doorknobs in particular are a little wonky. A few are broken (luckily these are mainly on the inside of closet doors), and others have given us trouble by completely falling off (once I almost got stuck in the bathroom when this happened!).
One of our long-term house projects is to repaint all the interior doors in our house, from their current cream/tan/ivory-type color to a brighter white (and the same goes for the baseboards and trim). We’re pondering if we should replace the doorknobs at that point as well.
I like the dark-metal-against-white-doors contrast of Young House Love’s door hardware, and the squared-corner detail of this vintage backplate that Yellow Brick Home found. These are some contemporary doorknobs that I think would look great in our house.
A. Weslock Impresa Knob in Oil-Rubbed Bronze, a rectangular backplate with a subtle border detail
B. Modern with a vintage feel: New York Plate with Black Porcelain Knob in Oil-Rubbed Bronze
C. Just the slightest curviness: Weslock Impresa Knob in Elegance Oil Rubbed Bronze
We’ve got 20 glass doorknobs in our house. If we replaced them all with, for example, the doorknob above from Home Depot (option C – cost: $26.88 each), we’d be spending more than $500 on new materials for this upgrade.
On the other hand, the old glass knobs are obviously part of our home’s history, which we are committed to honoring as much as possible, even as we update things to a more modern look/functionality. It seems wasteful to take out lovely vintage doorknobs that are relatively well-functioning, just because they are a little old-fashioned. If we keep them, perhaps the broken ones can be replaced and the loose ones repaired. Possibly even the backplates could be refreshed with some fresh darker-metal-toned spray paint and matching screws.
And of course, it would be much more cost-effective to keep the existing door hardware, rather than spring for all new knobs and backplates. A dark matte finish on the backplates might help de-emphasize all the curlicues and scrolls.
(All of these inspiration images – and more – can be found on our Pinterest board Inspiration: Doorknobs)
Every time I go to open a door in our house and I grab onto one of these doorknobs, the debate starts again in my head. Keep or replace? Keep or replace? Keep or replace?
What would you do?
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