All power corrupts, but we need the electricity

Our story so far: My husband Tyler and I purchased a 126-year-old Methodist church to turn into our home, we demolished the interior over the course of two months, and now we were in the midst of the mechanicals phase of reconstruction.

# # #

Chapter 22

Benjamin Franklin may have proved lightning was electrical by flying a kite in a thunderstorm in 1752, but it wasn’t until 1879 that Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb.

Twelve years later, our Methodist church was built. It surely was not lit with electricity until at least the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the national electrical grid to bring electricity to rural areas.

Perhaps the church was lighted with gas at some point, we couldn’t tell. We found evidence of early 20th century knob-and-tube wiring and cloth-covered wiring behind some of the walls in the church, but none of it was operational, and the remaining wiring was a mix of flexible armored tube copper wire, Romex and a little conduit.

What wiring was operational was flaky. Tyler learned this when he connected uncounted power tools to various outlets. The dependable outlets soon were favored and extension cords employed when electricity was needed in far-flung church locales.

To be safe, Tyler decided to rewire 100 percent of the church, no matter how old or new(ish) were the wires. Our electrician was the first contractor we chose; he’d worked on the church in the past so he already knew what was wrong in a contemporary way and what was antique in a knob-and-tube way. By the time the HVAC guys finally finished and Glimfeather the plumber was nearly done, our walls were framed. So our electrician could go to work.

Of course, in order to get to work, the electrician needed direction. Where to put outlets? Where to switch the lights? What kind of lights? How many?

Welcome to a world of arcane terminology like amps and volts, poles and pucks, cables and circuits, cans and dimmers, GFI and GFCI.

# # #

Tomorrow: Our first real fight about the church. Read about it here.


Your hat should match your dress

Our story so far: Reroofer, who once helped us repair the belfry, was enlisted to blow insulation into the roof of the 126-year-old Methodist church we were turning into our home.

# # #

But Reroofer, our agile roof walker, wasn’t finished yet. With an uncharacteristic daytime handoff from Glimfeather the plumber, Reroofer threaded the soil vent pipe through the roof and proceeded to repair the hole in the roof created when we removed the portable gas heater (and accompanying stove-pipe) from the second floor.

reroofer soil pipe
Reroofer, happy to be outside on the roof instead of inside spraying insulation.

A soil vent pipe, for people who only use bathrooms but don’t know how they work, has nothing to do with soil. It runs vertically from the underground drainage system to the roof. The vent allows odors from waste to be released into the atmosphere. By placing it above roof gutter level, no one’s the wiser about the stink of your, shall we say, poop.

For what wouldn’t be the first time, Tyler sent Reroofer up there with a can of black spray paint. I don’t have to remind you that details matter, and who wants a white pipe sticking out of the roof when one could have a black pipe. Not Tyler, the Virgo, who had already spray-painted the exterior vents for the dryer and stove white to match the siding.

Reroofer’s work was impeccable; when he was done, the roof looked as good as new.

HVAC guy on roof
An HVAC guy, complying with Tyler’s wishes.

A week or so later, the HVAC guys threaded a flue vent liner through the chimney in preparation for the fireplace we were installing in the sanctuary-cum-great room. Before ascending the ladder to straddle the highest peak on the roof, Tyler handed the appointed HVAC guy a can of heat-resistant black spray paint with explicit directions to paint the vent at the top of the chimney.

“What did the HVAC guy say?” I asked later.

Tyler said, “I think he was surprised I had heat-proof black spray paint on hand.”

# # #

Tomorrow: Chapter 22 opens, and the air is electric. Read it here.

Pink isn’t just a color

Our story so far: While the plumber, electrician and HVAC guys worked on the old Methodist church we were turning into our home, so did we.

# # #

A week or so later, Tyler loomed over the bed at 5:50 a.m. on a Saturday. “Home Depot opens in ten minutes. Time to get out of bed!”

Did I mention Tyler was an early riser?

I complied. Fortunately, Starbucks was on the way to Home Depot and Tyler deigned to stop. So at least I got some coffee.

We proceeded to Home Depot where I watched him walk the insulation aisle, checking packages.

“This is the one! Grab that cart.”

We took only one pink loaf of blow-in insulation back to the tool rental desk.

“How many packages come on a pallet?”


“I’ll take two pallets.”

No kidding. That earned us the bulk discount, but we still invested four figures in insulation.

insulation pallet
Insulation pallet Number One.

Two pallets of insulation did not both fit into the back of the truck. So I drove one pallet back to the church and went right back to Home Depot for the second one.

Just about the time Tyler had cut all thirty-six loaves of insulation in half in our front yard, Reroofer arrived.

Reroofer, the trusty roof expert who worked on our belfry, didn’t know he was going to be helping with insulation, but he was game for anything (apparently he had had his coffee, too).

insulation yard
That’s a lot of insulation.

The assembly line began. Reroofer climbed into the space between the sanctuary ceiling and roof with one end of the hose, while I fed insulation a half loaf at a time into the blower outside the front door. Tyler supervised (more than once he reassured me that Reroofer was upright and ambulatory inside the attic rather than being buried by a mound of pink insulation—“He’s fine! Now get back out there and mind the blower!”).

pink panther
This was me, feeding insulation into the blower. Yes, I wore my pink work boots and a sly look on my face.

I found the job strangely satisfying. As the blower consumed half-loaf after half-loaf, the enormous pile of pink insulation slowly but consistently disappeared.

Four hours later, plus or minus a couple of breaks, we were done.

Or at least I was.

I went home to shower.

# # #

Tomorrow: Not everyone hit the showers. Reroofer wasn’t done yet as Chapter 21 concludes. Read it here.

Insulation against glamour

Our story so far: We worked on ceilings ad infinitum during the renovation of the 126-year-old Methodist church. 

# # #

Before sealing up ceilings and walls, I got to install insulation.

The pink stuff.

This job required no expertise, only perseverance. So I got tagged.

I suited up in Tyvek, safety goggles, gloves and a breathing mask, and set to work on the first area requiring insulation: The attic eaves.

It was like wrestling with Tyler if my king-sized husband were cotton candy—the insulation was bigger that I was, and there was no way I was gonna win this fight. I resisted, I poked and I punched when called for, and eventually I got the pink rolls stuffed between the studs.

The worst part was the height of the attic eaves—exactly short enough that I couldn’t stand and tall enough that I couldn’t reach the top when I was kneeling. I didn’t have quadriceps for this.

After wrestling with insulation for two days and thinking I was finished, I learned properly installed insulation requires a vapor barrier. So I spent an afternoon wrestling with plastic to cover the insulation and a staple gun (one of the few power tools I was comfortable operating).

When I finished, I was reminded of a mantra that circulated in the scrapbooking circles I once traveled. Scrapbookers rarely lack raw material because life and the photos one takes while living life keep happening. It can become overwhelming if one agonizes about every single detail on every single page so sometimes scrapbookers power through an imperfectly decorated scrapbook page just to be able to move on to the next one: Done is better than perfect.

attic eave before
This is a shot of the attic when we bought the church. The door to the eaves had a sign that said “do not open.” We opened it anyway, and the eaves were filled with junk and dust.
insulated attic eave
After: Is this the finest insulated attic eave you’ve ever seen?

# # #

Tomorrow: Oh, we’re not done with insulation yet, missy! Nosirree! Da-dum, da-dum, da-dum da-dum da-dum, da-dum da-dummmmm. Can you hear that saxophone? Read about it here.


Find happiness where the sun shines

Our story so far: Deep in the midst of the framing and mechanicals phase of renovating the old Methodist church into our home, we focused on ceilings.

# # #

One of the features we dreamed of on the second floor was skylights. Our Number Three design rule was “Natural lighting brings the outdoors indoors.” While traipsing through a model home during an autumn Parade of Homes tour, we discovered a novel skylight that transmitted light from the roof to a main floor kitchen with a series of reflective surfaces inside a tube. It was a Solatube, the brand name for a tubular daylighting device. During a conversation with an installer at a home improvement show, we learned Solatubes can also include a bathroom vent and a solar-powered nightlight, which would be perfect for our upstairs bathroom.

Tyler hurried to install the pickled plywood planks on the upstairs ceiling, and the Solatube installer arrived bright and early one Monday morning to install one tube in the bathroom and another one (without the vent and nightlight) in the adjacent area which would someday house my office.

solartube bathroom
You can see the bathroom Solatube glowing even in a picture!
solatube office
The Solatube in my future office.
solatube outside
Here’s how the Solatubes looked on the roof of the church.

The Solatubes generated an amazing amount of natural light upstairs, just what we imagined. And, we learned we could get a tax rebate for utilizing energy-efficient lighting. Score!

# # #

Tomorrow: As long as we’re being energy conscious, we think pink. Read about it here.

Ceilings, ceilings everywhere

Our story so far: Things were looking up in the 126-year-old Methodist church we were renovating into our dream home.

# # #

Now Tyler paid attention to the other ceilings in the church.

ceiling bathroom
Bathroom ceiling, joisted in.

The master bath required a false ceiling.

ceiling hallway
Hallway ceiling.

The hallway to the master bedroom required a false ceiling.

ceiling bedroom
Note: There’s room for window trim beneath the tray.

The master bedroom required a tray ceiling. The master bedroom’s ceiling was particularly vexing because of the unlevel floor and existing ceiling but Tyler persevered, as always, and made it work in a way Tim Gunn of “Project Runway” would have approved. In the remaining recessed area, we would install a ceiling fan.

The entryway required reconstruction to remove all the cross beams in what was formerly a false ceiling; here, we were going to drywall the actual ceiling with only two cross beams. Tyler also removed the last ancient wasp nest that had been decorating the church.

doorway bedroom
Ahh, an arch.

Among other details above our heads, Tyler created an archway for the open doorway from the master bedroom to the master bath, and he rebuilt the back stairway to the second floor that was hopelessly crooked thanks to a broken stringer.

Tyler in stairway
Pay no attention to the man beneath the stairway.

# # #

Tomorrow: We pursue a technologically forward approach to skylights. Read about it here.


Our story so far: My husband built a balcony off the choir loft in the 126-year-old Methodist church we were turning into our home.

# # #

More urgent that carpeting: A railing. Walking near the edge of the plywood was unnerving. When all we had was a doorway to nowhere, I urged Tyler to cordone off the scary maw. But with thirty-plus feet of balcony edge, there was no way to create temporary safety barriers.

We returned to the local manufacturer where we fantasized about a spiral staircase. The proprietor offered to let us mix-and-match her overstock railing spindles in the back room. We pawed through a half dozen dusty boxes (imagine how black the dust in an iron welding joint can be), and we were rewarded with enough forty-two-inch spindles to create a traditional wrought iron railing with a hint of upscale details.

The proprietor also paid us a visit at the church to measure and discuss the details of the stairway, which would take eight to twelve weeks to fabricate.

# # #

Tomorrow: More ceilings. See them here.