It’s crunch time!


In case you missed it, Daniel and I got married on October 26th!

Meanwhile at the house, work is going full speed ahead with the hopes of being move in ready around the middle of December.  The existing wood flooring has been reinstalled, sheetrock has been primed and painted, tile is about 90% complete and windows, doors and shutters are all being installed.

We will take the time to touch on each of these in more detail, but wanted to share some images of one ongoing project – the stair wall.

Since we take a lot of pride in the reuse of materials from the house, it seemed a waste to trash the exterior siding that was not fit for repair.  The most eye catching thing about the original house was its gray earthy tone – a result of a heavily weathered light blue paint combined with the natural aged tones of the wood.  We decided that the interior stair wall was a good place to install the siding – to give the house some texture to contrast with the new stark white walls.

We first installed a 1/4″ layer of OSB sheathing painted black – so any nail holes or splits in the siding would not be visible.  We then installed the skirt board at the stair and small trim pieces at the each end wall to terminate the siding.  The siding itself is installed flat instead of lapped, which gives it a more contemporary look.

Here are some progress shots:

OSB sheets pre-painted.

OSB sheets pre-painted.

Makeshift scaffolding to access the walls and ceiling.

Makeshift scaffolding to access the walls and ceiling.

OSB installed.
OSB install...

OSB install…

Siding terminates into skirt board.Siding terminates into skirt board.

Nice patina, don't you think?

Nice patina, don’t you think?

Meanwhile, Daniel has been working to make the stair treads out of the salvaged floor joists and compiling all the hardware we need to make the doors and windows function.  We will do a post to focus solely on the hardware since it has been difficult to find good affordable solutions that work with the historic doors and windows.

photo 3-3

I have been focused on ordering all of our light and plumbing fixtures – no small task!  I also spent the day yesterday priming our craigslist kitchen cabinets to get them ready for a new paint job.

Hard wood cabinets - two coats of white primer.

Hard wood cabinets – two coats of white primer.

Next week the exterior of the house will be painted, all electrical fixtures and switch plates installed and the floors will receive an initial finish coat.

We picked the blue on the left but didn't like the green.  Still working on a shutter color.

We picked the blue on the left but didn’t like the green. Still working on a shutter color.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!



Today we ordered the tile for the upstairs and downstairs bathroom.  Here was the inspiration:


We decided to go with a 3×6 matte white subway tile instead of the square tiles but will do the same running bond pattern.  We got a matte black hex tile for the floors in the upper bathroom, where we only have a shower.  We have sections of slate that were around the fireplaces (many were broken) that we will have cut in sections for the shower curb.

In the downstairs bathroom where we have a bathtub, we are going to use a light green victorian hex tile for the floors with the same wall tile as the upstairs bathroom.  Here is a picture of what that looks like.

light green hex tile

The subway tiles are a great option if you are on a tight budget since they work out to be a little over $2 per square foot.

Can’t wait to share some photos post-installation!


Before I get started on the insulation talk , I thought I’d share a picture of the outside of the house with all new hardie siding.  We still have the front and back of the house to install, but Daniel’s hard work at leveling out the barge board sheathing is evident in the this picture of the North elevation.  That’s about as straight as we could have hoped for given that the house has a pronounced lean and 90 degree angles are hard to come by!

North facing elevations are the best for the most indirect natural light and very little solar heat gain.

North facing elevations are the best for the most indirect natural light and very little solar heat gain.

We have also made progress in the last couple weeks on restoration of the windows and doors.  More info will follow in posts by Daniel, but here is a picture of windows and doors sanded and primed.


And now for the fun part – insulation.  I will break this into two parts – walls and attic space.

For the walls, we decided to go with BIBS or blown in blanket insulation.  This is an affordable, easy to install alternative to spray foam that provides a more consistent R-value than the common pink fiberglass batts because it fills the entire cavity.  It is a two step process – install a fabric liner on the outside face of the studs and then pump in the “powder puff” through a hole cut in the fabric at each cavity.  Powder puff is a technical term for BIBS that was taught to me by the installer.  The result is an R-15 insulation value (2×4 walls) or an R-23 (2×6 walls).  An added bonus is that your walls feel like mattresses.  The fabric liner even closely resembles what you’d find on the bottom of a box spring.



The attic presented another obstacle.  Because we made our attic space accessible, we went from having a vented attic (non-airconditioned space with open air flow to the exterior) to a non-vented attic due to conditioning the space.  In order to have a truly unvented attic assembly, you have to provide a full air and moisture barrier.

In your walls, you want the option of vapor permeability so that if and when when vapor occurs within the walls, it has a way to escape prior to doing any damage.  Here is a great article on why condensation occurs in walls and how to avoid it.

Your roof line on the other hand should be vapor and air impermeable when conditioned.  The most widely recommended insulation to achieve this is close celled spray foam.  As mentioned in a previous post, the State Historic Preservation Office who is administering our tax credit program does not allow the use of spray foam in historic buildings.  They feel that it is detrimental to the old wood and irreversible should a problem arise.

In its place, we elected to use vapor impermeable polyisocyanurate foam board insulation.  The right product for this is Dow Thermax sheathing.  It is foil faced on both sides and comes in various thicknesses.  Other (more affordable) rigid board insulation products can be used in the walls, but the polyiso boards are the only ones that meet the requirements of a true air and vapor seal.  I was warned endlessly by the insulation subcontractor at the problems that can arise with moisture if this is not done correctly.

Our application is 2″ thick sheets between the rafters – sealing all major gaps – with a second 2″ layer attached to the underside of the rafters.  On the second layer, we alternated the joints from the first layer and sealed (I should say… are sealing as we speak) every joint with a fiber mesh tape covered with a fibrous mastic.  The mastic is the same stuff used by HVAC contractors to seal duct connections.

Since the rafters are 6″ deep, we installed blocking to keep the first layer in line with the base of the rafters.  An added bonus is that the foil face of the polyiso provides a radiant barrier in the air space between the polyiso and the roof, though I’ve heard that a radiant barrier facing up can collect dust over time and not function as well due to loss in the reflectivity.

Daniel and Ben.

Daniel and Ben.

photo 4

photo 5

signed, sealed, delivered.

signed, sealed, delivered.

In order to offset the costs of the insulation (the polyiso is more expensive than the spray foam, mainly due to added labor), we are installing the attic insulation ourselves.  I have to give Daniel most of the credit here – I have the very good excuse of finalizing wedding plans keeping me from crawling around in hard to reach places in an unconditioned summertime attic space.  And when I say hard to reach, I mean extremely difficult and claustrophobia inducing spaces that require shimmying between the roof rafters and large piece of HVAC equipment with pieces of foam board, drill and sealant.  I did get recruited for long enough to experience that part!

To end on a fun note, here is a view out of our attic bedroom window.


More on tax incentives…

Hey everyone.  I wanted to do a quick blog post with an update on our tax credit status.  One of our first posts was about the State Residential Tax Credit – a program that pays for 25% of your construction costs and fees (50% if vacant and blighted) with a cap of  $25,000 per historic structure.  In our case, 25% would be more than the cap, so we are hoping to get the full $25,000, credited towards our taxes in equal installments over the next 5 years.

As previously mentioned, SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office) does not allow the use of spray foam – an order passed down from the National Park Service who governs the national tax credit programs.  We had to get creative with our insulation as a result – more on that soon.

In addition to insulation, we just received the response to our Part B application.  This application included a thorough description of the existing structure and our intentions for the renovation, along with a picture of each wall in the house keyed to the floor plans.  If anyone is interested, I am happy to share a copy of our application.

Our response basically said we were approved, assuming we met the following conditions:

  1. More information, including photos or drawings, of the proposed gallery on the east elevation must be submitted for approval prior to construction.
  2. The center demising wall, separating the living and dining room, cannot be removed. The walls on either side of the fireplace must be repaired and retained.
  3. The mantles seen in photos  13, 26, and 30, must be repaired and reused.  The mantle in photo 26, which is located in the proposed bathroom, can be reused in the living room which does not have and existing mantle.
  4. All of the fireplaces must remain covered.  The brick cannot be exposed.

The first one was not a shock, but the other three definitely went against what we planned to do and have done to date.  Thankfully we did discover an existing door in the front demising wall (picture below) and we saved the mantles even though we weren’t planning on reusing them.  Our friend Joshua spent a lot of time removing the plaster from the existing fireplaces and now we will be covering them up with gypsum board (sorry about that Joshua!).  But all in all, totally worth the $25,000 to comply.  Next step is to submit an amendment to our Part B with drawings of the back awning and photos of the existing opening between the living and dining room.  After that, we just have to submit finished project photographs and invoices on construction costs to get final approval.

hidden door frame on the right

discovered door frame on the right – it was only covered with the non-hisotric layer of sheetrock that got removed.

The timing with the response was good – we are starting sheetrock next week.  Any work you do prior to getting the response is at risk, so definitely get your applications in as soon as possible.

Speaking of timing, here is another tax incentive program that should be considered before you start improvements on a project:

Restoration Tax Abatement

This essentially keeps your property at its current assessed file (as far as the taxes are concerned) for 5 years as an incentive for people to invest in properties.

The website is pretty straightforward in laying out the process, but if you have any questions you can contact Becky Lambert who is the program administrator for Louisiana Economic Development. or 225-342-6070.

For those of you in New Orleans, you will need to get a local certification from the Mayors Office here in NOLA that the property falls within one of the districts or development zones (essentially all of New Orleans does).  The contact for that is Tracey Jackson: or 504.658.4955.

Go Saints!

Air conditioning. Sweet, sweet air conditioning.

It has been a while since we have posted and a lot has happened at 1209 Touro.  We have the majority of our mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems roughed in.  Each of these has carried with it a lot of decision making, and I’m not talking about whether your faucets are brushed nickel or polished chrome!

We will be sharing our decision process in a series over the next couple weeks, since showing pictures of ductwork, electrical wiring and plumbing pipes is neither exciting nor informative.  And we are starting with the most difficult (and expensive) of all – the HVAC system.


A house’s mechanical system includes heating, air conditioning and general venting.  We decided to install a central air system.  There are other options to this type of system, but the industry standard for residences is currently central air.

The mechanical system selection depends on three things: the total tonnage requirement of the home, the functionality of the system (multi-system vs. single system vs. multi-zone), and the SEER of the unit itself.

To determine the tonnage requirement, we had an energy consultant do a J-load calculation.  From the Internet – A Manual ‘J’ was developed by Air Conditioning Contractor’s Association (ACCA) and is a detailed calculation of how much heat is gained or lost by your home under a specific set of conditions.  It includes such things as the size of each room, the size of the windows, type of windows, size of door and their type, insulation and magnetic orientation of the home.  Ideally the subcontractor providing your insulation will perform the J-load, at a minimal cost.

 In order for this calculation to be performed, we had to make a decision about insulation in the walls and at the roofline.  Our next post will cover what we have decided and hopefully include some pictures of the install, since that is our next priority in keeping the schedule in tact.  Our  J load gave us our tonnage requirements in the range of 3 ½ tons to 4 tons.  We opted for a 3 ½ ton system due to the issues that can arise with an oversized system and because we don’t keep our house extremely cold.  (Human comfort zone is around 73 degrees).

We chose to do a multi-zone system rather than doing separate single systems (multi-system) for the upstairs and downstairs.  Here is some information on how a multi-zone system works.

For the SEER of the unit, we went with a rating of 14.  Our choices were 13, 14 or 15- with the higher number being the most efficient.  There was about a $900 jump on the cost of the system for each SEER unit increase.

Two things influenced this decision. The first was  an article I came across that suggested a 14 SEER unit will soon be the code minimum – that eliminated 13.  And the second was our conversation with the HVAC subcontractor – why buy the most fuel efficient car if you are only driving it a couple miles a day?  We aren’t going to set our thermostat at 60 degrees and therefore may never really see the life cycle cost benefit of the more expensive unit.

Another thing that helped us decide against the 13 minimum is the $300 tax credit available for installing a 14 SEER unit.  Here is some information on that. (We will also be taking advantage of the $500 tax credit for insulation).

Another step in the HVAC decision making is where and how to route the ducts.  In a house that historically did not have air conditioning and no longer has an attic, this was quite a puzzle!  Here is a picture of the unit, located in the leftover attic space above the back bedrooms.


Happy Birthday Megan!!

Today is Megan (and Barack Obama’s) birthday! Megan is turning 30 and is in LA for her bachelorette party, i’m sure they’re having no fun at all so I thought I would take the opportunity to both wish her a happy 30th and to do a little update on the progress of the house.

The past few weeks have been hot here in New Orleans, we have been working towards finishing the new framing inside the house while doing repairs to the barge boards that will remain on the exterior. Simultaneously, Megan and I have been working at my shop to repair and prep the windows and exterior doors. Once the framing and barge board repairs are complete, we will wrap the house with moisture barrier and then install the windows, doors and cornerboards

2x6 screwed to each barge board to bring them in line. Blocking was then added inside to keep it all in plane.
2×6 screwed to each barge board to bring them in line. Blocking was then added inside to keep it all in plane.
Barge board salvaged from interior walls was used to patch the exterior.

Barge board salvaged from interior walls was used to patch the exterior.

interior barge board stacked and ready for re-use

interior barge board stacked and ready for re-use

New sill plate and straps will create a strong base for the North elevation.
New sill plate and straps will create a strong base for the North elevation.


I finally cut down the tree to get an unobstructed view of the house before we cover it all up with Tyvek.

I finally cut down the tree to get an unobstructed view of the house before we cover it all up with Tyvek.

the paper is up!

the paper is up!


Here are a few shots of the window progress… As soon as the windows, doors and corner boards are installed then we can begin siding!!

Windows lined up, sanding, filling and getting ready to prime

Windows lined up, sanding, filling and getting ready to prime

IMG_2721 IMG_2722


Stay tuned for photos of windows and doors installed!!


It’s official, our house is old.

Since we began this renovation, we’ve had quite a few people stop by to salvage items.  By far the most interesting and informative are the crew that have been looking for old bottles over the last couple of weeks.  Old bottles can be very valuable for collectors and tell a lot about the history of a place.

The team starts by probing the back yard to find evidence of an old latrine, usually at the furthest point from the house in the back yard.  When the probe turns up evidence of glass, they dig a larger hole and extract all the glass.

Up until this point, the oldest record we knew of with the house was a purchase record from around 1880.  However, our research suggested that barge board creole cottages were prevalent in the early part of the century and so we used 1850’s as an approximate date on our tax credit application.  Here are some photos of the bottle extraction process with wine bottle seals dated as far back as 1834.







So current research suggests the house is at least 180 years old!