Cottage Archaeology

Adventures in rehabbing a 50-something cottage.

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Name: Mike Yuhas
Location: Wisconsin, Land o' Cows

Editor emeritus pro tem

Monday, August 27, 2007

Weird dream

This morning I laughed myself awake from an odd dream I was having.

Our experiences with the cottage rehab so far have been enlightening, and often downright surprising. Things like severed headers above doorways; repairs halfway made to floor joists; lack of anything square, plumb, and level; and burned, short, and otherwise recycled 2x4s used as studs, to name just a few. Construction techniques so haphazard that we just shake our heads in disbelief. In fact, our noggins are sore due to the constant slapping of our palms against our foreheads.

A previous post detailed some of the substandard electrical work found throughout the place. I must have had this on my mind as I fell asleep last night. In my dream I envisioned a previous electrician wiring the house so cheaply that they didn't use circuit breakers.

Instead they used circuit benders.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A well ventilated home

We hit a milestone this weekend: all the walls (drywall and/or paneling) have been removed, clear down to the studs.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

In the ceiling

... and walls, all kinds of nifty treasures have come pouring out. First, a small bottle:

No clue what it once contained. If you have any idea, no matter how outlandish, leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

Next, some Marlboro 100s. These dropped out of the living room ceiling, with the pack and loose cigarette landing at my feet:

They were probably a little too dry to smoke.

What this Prestone tag was doing in my ceiling remains a mystery:

When was the last time your mechanic tied a tag around your radiator spout alerting you to the date your antifreeze was installed and the "gallons put in?"

A previous post mentioned the Zonolite Man. Here's his trusty steed, the Mule Hide Roofs mule:

So far two used Raid Fumigators have fallen out of the ceiling:

This screwdriver will come in handy at some point:

Ah-hah! Something bearing an actual date, likely to be around the epoch some of the work was done to the cottage:This is a significant find for several reasons. First, the date, June 1955. Whether this is when the first joists were hoisted, or if it's when an early cottage expansion took place is anyone's guess, but at least this artifact won't need to be sent to the boys in the lab for Carbon-14 dating to determine its age.

Another interesting observation is the layout of the calendar page, with the week of June 5-11 prominent, but also showing all dates of each specific day of the week. Note the ornate decorative borders around the days. The two-color letterpress work is of very high quality.

Lastly, the week's motto at the top is particularly poignant: "Courtesy is to business what oil is to machinery." Insightful words, those.

This adapter could let you power a small appliance from an ordinary light socket:

This could have been put to good use in the bedroom that had just one outlet -- at lightswitch height.

The following fell out of the hallway ceiling:

It's a good thing I was wearing a hardhat at the time.

These final three items were found in a bedroom wall. How about the still-sharp pencil from the Old Ironsides Battery Works in Campbellsport:

A quick web search turned up a few paragraphs on the Old Ironsides facility:

Fond du Lac County: Old Ironsides Battery Site, Hwy 67, Town of Ashford. FCEDC has been working closely with Fond du Lac County on the sale and redevelopment of the old Ironsides Battery site, approximately 1-1/2 miles outside of Campbellsport. The Ironsides property was the site of a battery manufacturing and battery reclamation business from the 1930s until 1990. The property was contaminated as a result of the battery manufacturing and reclamation that occurred on the property over the 60-year period. The EPA conducted a $390,000 decontamination of the property, and the Wisconsin Dept. of Commerce provided a $100,000 Brownfield grant for remediation and redevelopment. The County received DNR environmental closure of the property in mid 2004. FCEDC worked closely with a number of private sector clients interested in the acquisition and redevelopment of the Ironsides property during 2005.
(From the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation 2005 annual report.)

Next, a cobweb-covered shirt hanger:

Finally, an old candy wrapper:

And there you have it -- a dozen disparate reminders of an innocent time, when people only worried about courtesy, skating, bugs, and antifreeze.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Say hello to the Zonolite Man. This five decades old drawing appears on an empty bag of Zonolite brand vermiculite insulating fill. (Classic 1950s styling -- I'll bet the Zonolite Man's car was replete with tailfins!) The bag itself was found in the rafters above the kitchen ceiling, under several inches of actual vermiculite. Apparently the people who insulated thought that by laying empty bags in the rafters (they also used old roofing shingle boxes, rugs, and other handy material), the vermiculite wouldn't percolate through the ceiling drywall.

The Zonolite Man and I have become close friends. I've learned that vermiculite is a fireproof mineral that attains its small nuggetlike characteristics during an exfoliation process after being mined. It's like mica. It can be used horticulturally, as a soil conditioner. An informative Wikipedia article suggests that over 35,000,000 homes in the United States are insulated with vermiculite. When it pours out of the ceiling it creates a lot of dust, which is why I always wear gloves, safety glasses, a condom (just kidding!), a hardhat and mask when dealing with the stuff. I'm concerned that the Zonolite Man did not use a respirator when installing the product. I hope he didn't fall ill.

Even with all the personal protection devices I employ, vermiculite has found its way into places I wish it hadn't, like my ears. A load went down the back of my shirt and ended up in my butt crack. Yick!

Here's a photo of a large mound of the stuff in the dumpster. Can't you just smell the dust?

This post dedicated to the memory of my dad, Harry Yuhas, an active gardener who frequently used vermiculite in potting soil. Today would have been his 81st birthday.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What to call the rooms?

There is a little controversy in the household regarding the names with which we refer to the cottage's individual rooms. Some are easily agreed upon, such as "bathroom," "kitchen," and "living room" (though we often speak of the latter as Cassidy would have when she was a few years younger: "livering room"). The trouble ensues when referring to rooms by a major spotting characteristic -- interior color. Now that several have been denuded of drywall, their original colors have vanished.

The traditionalist in the family (me) clings to these quaint names, as if we had a long, storied relationship with the rooms in question. In reality, the first thing we did when we took possession was to merrily plot the new color scheme, and shortly thereafter, the walls -- and most traces of former colors -- came tumbling down.

One such example is what I will forever refer to as the "blue room," the room immediately between the kitchen and garage. Alex took down the blue paneling -- the blueness of the blue room -- in one of the first tangible actions of the remodeling. Mrs. Yuhas refers to the space as the "sun room," but with its placement on the north side of the house, it doesn't see much direct sun. (Truth be told, there are four east-facing windows, but we're always still asleep when the sunshine might come pouring in.) The previous owners called it the "game room." Clearly, conflict. You'll read Mrs. Yuhas's rebuttal when she starts her own cottage remodel journal.

There is one bedroom not referred to by color (which happens to be beige), but by an unusual Rorschach pattern on the wood veneer on the inside of the door. Long after the door is removed and hauled off to the landfill, we'll lovingly call this master bedroom the "alien room."

Four on the floor

Four layers got ripped up:

From top to bottom, from left: a thin wood-like veneer: a layer of foam to give the floor even more sponginess: a half inch of oriented strand board: green foam insulating material, backed with a shiny mylar-like substance -- all resting on old linoleum. Judging by the date stamp on the OSB, this floor was likely installed around 2003 or 2004. It had to go because the subfloor had gotten seriously out of level.

That particular problem is a recurring theme in this house.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Well, not literally, but potentially. Today let's look at some of the interesting electrical oddities we've found.

First on the agenda is a previous owner's idea on where a switch was to have been positioned. We uncovered this unfollowed guidance when we ripped the blue paneling out of the blue room.

Next is a glimpse of how some of the outlets in the kitchen were fed. This is a combination light switch and wall outlet in the living room, as seen from the kitchen side.

Note how the old rubber/cloth insulated wire is suspended in mid-air, not secured to the box. I wonder what would happen if that wire were to jiggle around against the sharp metal box hole edge. Ya think maybe it could rub away the insulation on the hot and neutral? Maybe cause a short? The BX armored cable looks reasonable enough... but take a look at the Romex. It enters the box through an ordinary hole and, like that old wire, isn't secured or clamped. Look at how it's routed toward its load: rather than heading through a hole in the stud, someone merely cut a notch in the drywall for the wire to loop across. To make matters worse, the wire is only 14 gauge, and the outlets it's connected to are not GFCIs.

At least it is stapled to that bit of lumber, within a couple inches of the box.

The idea of wires hanging in mid-air apparently didn't concern anyone:

This rat's nest was found in the header, such as it was, above the sliding closet doors in the pink room. My pre-apprentice experience with house wiring tells me several things are wrong with this picture. First, the junction was not enclosed in an accessible box. Second, the wires were just hanging there. Third, wire nuts weren't used, electrical tape was. It's a disaster waiting to happen. (To be fair, these wires were actually resting on the thin piece of wood holding the track for the sliding doors. The track was attached to that hunk o'lumber by long screws. Of course, the screws were long enough to puncture through the wood and come perilously close to the wire.)

(There was another piece of unused wire hanging down from another hole in this same header. The end was covered with electrical tape. I gave it a pull, but it didn't budge. Since it was going to be excess anyway, and since I was using the reciprocating saw to destroy some nearby wall, I used it to cut through the wire, which it did like butter. Bad move. Luckily the circuit breaker tripped just after the first sparks flew.)

People's Exhibit 4 - another rat's nest:

This Rube Goldberg-esque affair is in the blue room, and takes the prize for cheapest iteration of unsafe electrical junctions. Can't do much but slap your palm against your forehead on this.

It should come as no surprise that none of the outlets I've found are properly grounded. That will all be changed when we wire this joint the right way!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Demolition begins

Right from the start we knew we'd need to do some serious work to this joint to bring it up to where we wanted to eventually be with it. We figured we'd start in earnest, for a couple reasons... namely, we didn't have any furniture and therefore nothing to get full of demolition debris and dust; and also because we just wanted to be done with it -- and be able to enjoy the lake while there was still some summer weather left. 

One of our first targets was the "pink room," so named because of the not-too-masculine hue clinging to the walls. Here's the before shot:

A couple things to note about the pink room: Yes, there's a window. No, it doesn't look to the outside; the magnificent view through it is of the blue room (conversely, the view from the blue room is of the lake... and the pink room). Also, that horizontal line in the left of the photo is a bookshelf. Right at eye level. It was the first thing to go.

Alex has been spending some of his summer days on our payroll here. He's gotten a good start in gutting the walls down to the studs:

First off was the pink paneling. Behind that was a layer of drywall, thoughtfully painted dark green. Remnants remain in the above picture. Also note the medicine cabinet backside, plumbing, and electrical for the bathroom on the left wall.

The ceiling really doesn't look too bad in the above picture, but it was a mess waiting to happen. Out it went, as seen in this final photo:

It came down easily, in layers. First were square ceiling tiles, which had been glued onto a layer of drywall. The glue held the ceiling tiles securely, more or less, to the drywall, and the tiles themselves were held together by a thick coat of white paint. 

Much of the drywall came down easily, too, because it had been waterlogged at one point and had thus lost any hint of structural integrity. 

Immediately above the drywall was a layer of rockwool, followed by a couple inches of loose fill vermiculite. This spilled over everything, creating a dust storm to rival anything Woody Guthrie ever sang about. It was all topped off with fiberglass insulation, the kind that works its way under your gloves and makes your wrists itch for days.

One final observation before signing off. See the door framing at left foreground? See how the stud is actually two 2x4s butted up against one another? This will be a recurring theme throughout the cottage as more walls come down.

Prior to closing

A couple weeks before closing, we had a home inspection done. I also took the opportunity to take a bunch of pictures. Here's one.

Monday, August 6, 2007


Well, we did it. Bought a cottage on the lake. Closed at the end of June, and just now getting around to setting up the journal. Stay tuned -- lots of neat stuff is going to happen!