Houston, We Have a Roof!

It’s been one heck of a year to have an extreme and extended winter season.  Of course it would be the year that our living situation could be considered glorified camping.  When we last posted, it was snowy, cold, and not much progress was being made.  Until last week, it was STILL SNOWY, COLD, AND NOT MUCH PROGRESS WAS BEING MADE.


Luckily, we have had a turn in the weather, and thus an upturn in the level of progress around Edge Hill.  Once the roof on the Little House was framed,


then we needed the expertise of our roofer.  The next step was to put on a layer of roofing boards and top it with a layer of spray foam insulation.  Our craftsman, Colon, had been communicating with the roofers, and we didn’t even realize that progress on the roof had been scheduled.  We came home to find a glorious sight:


After the foam was installed, we still had to remove that pesky power line that was running through the second story of the addition.


Remember the DIGGING Chad did to create a trench for this step?


 The weather held, and the line was buried just in time to keep the roofing project on schedule.  It was one of those tasks that I thought might never happen – I thought we might just have a thick, black power line humming through our closet, which might not have been the safest idea.  The house looks much better without it!


With that last obstacle removed, and with amazing weather (in reality, I think it was only 50 degrees and overcast, but it was dry and above freezing – it’s all relative), the metal roof was finally put in place.




One of the truck drivers even commented that it was starting to look like a building again.

Once the roof was on, Colon got busy installing our salvaged windows.  First, he framed for the windows and cut holes in the exterior plywood according to our grand design.


(The two holes on the top are the last traces of the power line’s old route).  Next, Colon created new window frames.  Many of the original frames were either missing or too rotten to be saved.


One by one, Colon is now installing the windows into their respective holes.  Here you can see the top two windows have been installed – minus the lower pane in the left window:

IMG_0020This is a close up of the new upper right window set in place:


And here is the view from inside!


We still need to restore each of these windows with new paint and putty, but just getting them into place is a great feeling.

Today, we got more good news.  The building inspector was on site and he approved the framing!  We’ve heard building inspectors are usually wary of saw mill lumber because it does not come certified, but in our case, the engineer’s plans were more than enough to carry the day.

In addition to the house updates, a lot of our readers said they loved hearing about our chickens, and you’re in luck, because that saga has continued.  One of the truck company employees enlightened us about the chickens’ origins; evidently, they were deported!  One of the truck company’s livestock trucks returned to the farm empty and ready to be cleaned out.  When the driver opened the trailer to spray it down, out marched THREE chickens!  As you have probably surmised, Chad and I never laid eyes on Chicken #3 . . . (cue “The Circle of Life”).

The bad news is that, shortly after the last post, Chicken #2 vanished into thin air, as well.  This caused a noticeable change in Blizzard’s morale, and we were resolved to find him some friends before the depression really set in.  We purchased four hens over the phone, and then realized they would probably suffer the same fate as Chicken #2 and #3 if we didn’t build them a coop (as if we didn’t have enough to do).  Chad immediately seized an opportunity to develop a new Google Sketchup masterpiece.

Two weekends ago, we had a surprise visit from some law school friends and we enlisted the cheap labor for the first half of the construction project.  Thanks, Becky and Mark!




IMG_0025We built a floor that slides out so we can clean the coop more easily:



(New respect for our roofers – cutting these angles is no easy work!)


  We ultimately moved the whole structure using the skidloader and placed it around the side of the house near our garden and water spigot.  We had a close call unloading it, but all’s well that ends well:


We obviously still need to paint it, and we had an – ahem – temporary roof of black vapor barrier on just to get started.  Our girls arrived before our roofers did!  When the roofers came to put the big roof on the Little House, they also put a little roof on our chicken coop (apologies for the goofiness of the following candid):

IMG_0009The coop has two side doors – one for refilling water and one for refilling food.


The coop also has two perches and eight nesting boxes where the hens lay their eggs (of course all five of them use only one of the eight boxes):

IMG_0021 The nesting boxes are on a slight angle so that a) the hens don’t get too comfortable in there, and b) so the eggs will roll to be back of the boxes for retrieval and avoid being pecked by the hens.  There are also doors on the backs of the nesting boxes so we can snatch the eggs more easily:


We came home with four black copper French marans (black with red crests), which lay dark brown eggs that are supposedly great for cooking (they taste great to us!).  The chicken man also threw in a mixed breed brown leghorn (pronounced “leggern” if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about) for free, who is our spunky girl.  She escaped within the first twenty-four hours and Chad had to seal crawl under the screened-in porch to rescue her.  Good thing we found her in time – it turns out the crawl space under the screened-in porch is like the Elephant Graveyard in the Lion King . . . lots of bones down there . . .

Status update: Blizzard has made a full recovery and is loving his harem.



Smokehouse Phoenix

Hey everyone! Can you believe it is February? It seems like the holidays flew by, and in the midst of merry-making and cold weather, DIY progress slowed a bit around Edge Hill. Professionals, however, come for paychecks and brave the cold. There have been a lot of jobs around the farm that we have tackled willingly, but Rachel and I draw a hard-and-fast line at masonry; that is a job for the true professionals.

When Rachel and I were looking at houses in Richmond three years ago, we were sold on our little two-bedroom in Stratford Hills for a great number of reasons, one of the best being low maintenance!


We’re going to miss this place! The Richmond home is solid brick construction, and we knew that meant no painting, reduced insect issues, etc. Edge Hill has taught us, however, that even brickwork needs lovin’ too. And when it does need work, it translates to some major TLC. You might remember that our brick smoke house was in dire straights when we arrived on the scene:

Chad & Rachel DA-108



(this is the view along the top of the back wall; look at how the vegetation turned the timbers into a nice foothold…and eventually dirt!)



You’ll also remember that, at the end of the summer, we got some help tearing down the roof, removing the rotten rafters, and clearing out the junk that was inside the smoke house.





Even though we had cleared the place out, the smokehouse was still listing at an uncomfortable angle…think colonial America’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Time to call in the professionals: Chuck and his team of brick masons prevented the structure from falling down before our eyes.

The masons went through a “repointing” process – they removed the old mortar and replaced it (this 2.5 minute video is very similar to the process Chuck used). They also used the pallets of brick we salvaged from the brick mound early in the summer . The masons worked on our property primarily on the weekends, which meant we got to observe the process!


(this is actually the summer kitchen, but you get the idea)

Our first and main concern was the corner of the smokehouse, which was mysteriously missing a sizable chunk right at car-bumper height, and the accompanying decayed wall had been haphazardly repaired with cement slathered into the brick voids.


Our masons agreed this was the first priority. The guys got right on it:


We are using Type S mortar and sand so the color is very close to the original mortar color. The guys started by routing out the joints:


And then proceeded to rebuild!



While there is some discoloration, fear not! There is a lot of moisture in the bricks and mortar that will evaporate over time, and once the weather is warm again each wall will be gently washed down to remove any excess brick/mortar dust. Last, repairing the east face of the structure was was a job that required a LOT of brick…which we did not have. Our hand-made, original bricks are conveniently size extra-large, meaning that matching brick must be custom-made for approximately $5.00 a brick. We (or should I say, our wallets) were in desperate need of a creative solution.

The masons said they could fix the wall’s structural integrity by using cinder blocks as an internal layer, and, because our walls are SO THICK, they could then face the exterior with “facing brick” made from our small reserve of original brick. This meant they would cut each of our old bricks into three slices, and preserve the historic look without having to patch in bricks that aren’t a perfect match!

View of the cinder blocks in place:


View of the exterior!


Once the brick was all repaired and stable, time to call in Colon and frame up the roof:



We designed the roof trusses exactly like the old rotten ones we took down, adding back the wooden pegs for an authentic timber-framed aesthetic. In the shot below, you can see the pegs as well as the ONE old beam that has survived 180 years!!


And last, but certainly not least, the roofers came and did their job. Their work was done in a New York Minute, so we only got one picture of their progress:


And, voila (this image was made only slightly more dramatic by Instagram photo filters)!




And again, here it is today:


The Smokehouse: Risen from the ashes!

And speaking of ashes, the smokehouse transformation doesn’t stop there. I decided that it would be best to go ahead and pour a concrete floor in the smokehouse, as we anticipate using it as a workspace and garden shed. I didn’t just want to pour concrete on top of the current grade, so I made the decision that the floor would need to be excavated substantially to accommodate the appropriate depth of concrete while also preserving the head clearance under the meat smoking beams. Get out your digging shovel: this was a do-it-yerself job.



While digging, I found the original soot line under layers of dirt. This is where the floor height would have back when meats were still being smoked! Here’s another shot, showing the layers of debris.


We dug down about a foot and a half. Trust me, this process felt like it was going to take all winter. But then the in-laws showed up for Smoke House Round Two! Thanks to Steve and Gina, we had four backs hard at work and we were able to move the dirt efficiently. During the process, we uncovered this cement block, that had been entirely buried pre-dig. We think it may have been the rest for an engine crane at one point when the smoke house was converted to a garage.



You can see the white line on the wall where the floor was when we started (the white sediment is salt that leeched into the brick during the smoking process). In our excavation we also found some ham bones, a horse shoe, and a bunch of old pottery shards. Our single most exciting find was:


The hood ornament to an old Packard automobile, quite the luxury car in the early 1900s! This is more proof of the smokehouses’ transforming uses. Usually the Packard winged goddess of flight holds a tire, so we aren’t sure if this piece is after-market, but we do have some confirmation that at least one Packard made the smokehouse garage its home in the 1930s.

In an amazing turn of events, our next blog post will return to the history of the farm, as we have been delighted to make primary contact with one of the home’s former residents!! We’ll leave you with this teaser of things to come: a shot, backdropped by the smokehouse, taken in the early 1900s:


You can even see how the door boards were originally aligned. HISTORY!

Last, but certainly not least, we want to thank papa Bill for making the smoke house restoration a reality!