Category Archives: Back Yard

My Dad Provided Common Sense Again

Like I said before, I want the stucco to wrap around the corner where the downspout hides the ugly control joint. But there’s a problem. The cast iron pipe connecting my downspout to the sewer angles in toward the house so the top is right up against it. It’s original to the house (1890’s) and not in good shape. Ask me why I have a can of Bondo in the basement. But in until I can replace it, it’s in the way of the stucco.


At first I thought I’d just stucco up to it and repair the missing patch later. But this could get rust stains in my stucco and the patch may not be done right and could crack. So I thought maybe I could rig some kind of temporary plaster stop and leave a gap around the pipe. The metal trim would all be in place but no plaster on it. Then my dad thought of the solution that should have been obvious. Cut it off with the Sawzall. The problem? His sawzall is kinda old and battery powered, and the batteries weren’t holding up to the rigors of this job.

We decided that I’d go to Sears and buy more, even though that meant a trip to Jersey. And it wound up being a 2 Home Depot trip day because the Irishman was outside and he told us we were using the wrong kind of blades. When I came back with the right blade, it worked so well we didn’t need the new batteries.


You can see that the stucco was , ahem, a little crude behind the pipe. And let’s not talk about the more recent work just to the left that I won’t be coating over this year. The Irishman told me the previous owner hired crackheads from the street whenever he needed work done. But we were able to patch the tar paper properly. Meaning 6 inch laps on vertical seams and 2 inches horizontal. I recut the weep screed since the old one was damaged from being wedged in behind the pipe. And we put in a longer downspout. The old one was damaged anyway. It’s a much better fit now!


But it’ll still be a tight squeeze once the stucco is in place. I’ll probably have to crimp the downspout in a little bit more.


Now one more thing – you might have noticed that I installed corner bead after I said I didn’t want it. Historic stucco had hand finished corners and was less perfect looking, but the corner bead does provide structural benefits. Corners can be prone to spalling, and this extra steel prevents that. And really, I don’t have truly traditional stucco, which would have been a coating applied to solid masonry that the owner would repair as needed forever. Modern stucco is cladding and we expect it to hold together without a lot of maintenance. Hopefully with the job I’ve done I’ll be good for 75-100 years.


Planning… Stucco?

So I’ve had a pattern. Do project, burn out, take time off, start 2 new projects. I was around that point in the cycle 2 weeks ago and, well, it was pretty obvious that sooner or later I need to finish painting the kitchen cabinets, get the knobs on, and get glass in the doors. So I took down the ones that the Irishman never painted on the back sides. Incidentally, he skipped all the ones that are the hardest to pop on and off.


And he convinced me that I need to stucco around the patio door this year. I’ve had plywood sheathing exposed to the elements (under an overhang at least) for 2 years now. So after lining one side of the dining area with cabinet doors I filled ┬áthe other with stucco materials. Also PVC trim boards for casing around the patio door.


And then I got food poisoning. (And I don’t know what from but I probably cooked it myself.)

So here’s the plan. First off, the old plan was to have the whole rear of the house stuccoed at once. The new plan is to defer the air shaft area indefinitely…


And do it like everyone else did and just redo the part that I can see for now. As in, new stucco on the plywood and the stucco that got this lovely green paint.


Now, stucco terrifies me. Because there are some stucco houses I love.


But there are others that are McMansions. Also, modern stucco is supposed to have ugly control joints so it doesn’t crack. I’m definitely going to need a couple because the stucco around the back door will be installed as a veneer over paint and plywood while the rest of the house (to be stuccoed later) can get it right onto the masonry, the old fashioned way.

So here’s what I’m thinking. I’ll install the new stucco with one horizontal control joint right around the top of the first floor. And I’ll wrap the corner and put the control joint right behind the downspout where you can’t see it. Because inside corners are bad, this means that when I go back and stucco the rest there will be a really long skinny strip of stucco that wraps the corner from the siding (the trim is PVC) to behind the downspout. Then the rest of the back inside the air shaft can hopefully get one seamless coat. Back to this photo again, the little bit of brick that’s showing behind the downspout is where the joint will be. (Note: I’m pretty sure the back of these houses are all a low grade of brick that needs to be stuccoed.)


Then there’s the small matter of texture. What I’ve noticed about old stucco is that it’s not as perfectly flat and often has a heavier texture than new stucco. That house I showed above? The walls seem to have heft. New stucco more often than not looks like a card house.


But the Crooked House is not Tudor. It’s not Cotswold Revival, Colonial Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, or arts and crafts. It’s a very modest late Victorian, a period when I don’t think stucco was particularly popular. And the back has no architectural style at all really. I’m going to do the walls in a fairly smooth sand finish. That’s basically the plainest stucco finish and it was popular before my house was built and after. It’s also the easiest to do. And I’m skipping the corner bead. I’ll chip off some of the old bad repairs to let the wall be semi-flat, then I’ll just let the corners be a bit rounded off.


Seasons change and so does my work

I’ve decided to move the end of summer back to sometime in the past week. It’s been warm and that lines up the change in seasons with big shifts in my house. This shift feels like a bit of a cleanse, as the piles of junk and mess are starting to shrink.


Everything about how lucky I am is in this photo. My dad tying scaffolding in the back of my neighbor’s truck (one of many things he’s loaned me, on top of occasionally helping me way faster than any DIY’er ever could – he’s a carpenter) so I can return it to my parents’ friend, who also was at my place all the time to hang siding and made an open offer to come back for future projects.
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Siding Post 7: I Can Do It in Every Position

Get your minds out of the gutter, folks. I’m talking about painting of course!


That shirt’s really taken a beating. Mostly because the back of my house has all kinds of awkward tight spaces. You’ve probably seen before that I needed to hop the property line to lean a ladder against the side of the house above. Plus there was the excitement of finagling that big, heavy (non-conductive) wooden ladder in between all the phone lines. But the other side is crazier.
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Siding Post 6: Almost Painted

This is probably the last you’ll see of my siding before the back side is really done. My agonizing over paint colors is done and culminated in going with the ballsiest suggestion I got, painting the siding (a slightly grayed out) navy blue. One criticism this idea got was that it would make my house look too Cape Coddy. I don’t really see this as a problem. If I could put an acre or two of dunes in the alley that would be even better, though it would also make my house farther from the subway.

And the beadboard on the “porch ceiling” is light blue. I had to wash off the residue from the tar paper that was nailed to it with paint thinner, which paired nicely with the Hop Devil I was drinking. And then it needed two tubes of caulk. I still missed a few holes, so I might have to caulk a weensy bit more in between coats. But here’s what I’ve got so far:

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Siding Post 4: Paint Color choices… and I suck at caulking

That’s right, I started off with talking about pretty things, but I’m gonna go through the back story before we talk about paint colors. Skip to the bottom if you want.

Making the back pretty (for real) is my next step! The bay on the back of the house is also the part of the house that I care the absolute least about having pretty, but once you’re dealing with uglies like water infiltration you’ve gotta do it all.

So the siding is done! I called my roofer and told him I’m ready for him to redo the fascia and silver coat the roof. I want the second part of this done, but doing all of it would be nice. He said he’d come by and see what the place looks like and hear what I want him to do (I guess because it’s been so long he’s forgotten what I paid for). And then that evening I saw him going into my neighbor’s house. He said he was just getting a cup of tea. So I waited for him. Later I knocked next door and found out that he forgot about me and went home. Whoops! Anyways, he should remember me soon, I hope. He’s a good roofer. But aside from that pretty fun little fail, I failed at caulking, and left lumpy goop all over my siding, which I then had to take off with a window scraper. Arg. Here it is, scraped clean. Sorta clean.

photo 3

And I’ve tried to conquer the caulk but it’s still winning.
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