All posts by Catherine Haibach

A timid start

Prior to this summer, we haven’t been doing much in the way of gardening. We had a few tomato plants last year but they were in awkward places and it’s a miracle they survived at all.

There are a few reasons for our lack of gardening. First, our garden will likely be on the south side of the building … right in the path of our eventual back porch reconstruction. We couldn’t bear to start working on a garden and then have to remove it!

Second, last summer we were still in the process of trying to buy the vacant lot on the east side of our building. It was very tempting to start a garden there, but we felt like we may be tempting fate if we began using the lot before we received the deed.

This spring, deed in hand, we took our first baby step toward a garden and built a raised bed. With the help of two very enthusiastic neighbor kids, we got the frame built and settled into the earth. We added a narrow plastic liner around the interior of the frame to protect the wood from damage caused by constant moisture, and our helpers did a great job tapping any crooked staples into place.

We have big plans for this vacant lot. Anyone who has seen the earlier project at 168 Elm Ave. may have an idea of what’s to come. Over the next year, we’ll re-do the porch and resolve some grading issues. We’ll need to talk about what portion of the property is for prairie, and what portion is for food. We also need to figure out if we need a garage.

Ultimately much of our garden will be on the roof. But that’s a long way down the road.

For now, we’ll enjoy the fruits of our small garden.



Paint stripping – Part 2

With the woodwork fixed in place, stripping the paint from the window casings and doorways had to be done inside.

The job gets a lot easier, with wood and trim work that is not attached. My preferred way is to strip these pieces outside on saw horses. Holding the Silent Paint Remover in the same position makes the heating more predictable, and having a horizontal work surface at a convenient height helps with endurance.

Of course, the challenge with working outside is that the neighborhood kids stop by to see what I’m doing, which usually results in me playing in the yard with them and the dog.

I was able to strip the paint off these five windowsills in just a few hours. The messier pieces will require one coat of SOY Gel to remove that last residue and get a nice finish.

I look forward to reinstall these original gorgeous pieces.


Paint stripping – Part 1

We are blessed with 100 year old quarter sawn oak around our windows and doors, and intend to restore as much of it as possible.

Before Marcus got too far along with the framing, I needed to get the doorways and window cleaned up.  This meant stripping 100 years worth of paint from more than 10 doorways and about a dozen window casings on the first floor.

It’s time to pull the Silent Paint Remover back out of the closet. It has worked great for us on the linoleum tiles and the trim for the basement.

The process that I found to work best with the doors and windows is scraping off as much paint as possible using the Silent Paint Remover followed with one coat of SOY Gel. The Silent Paint Remover uses infrared heat to soften the layers of paint to the point where they can be scraped off. The more layers of paint, the better the Silent Paint Remover works.

I used the SOY Gel, a paint and urethane remover, to clean up any remaining paint residue.

Generally, I was able to move along pretty quickly on the window casings. The problem was that each room seemed to have a different interior design history, with widely varying types and layers of paint. The application of heat could result in a slab of paint popping off with barely a touch, or it could be a slimy mess with weird colors and consistencies that required repeated applications.

Timing is everything.  I developed a system where I’d hold the device next to the wood, count to seven or eight after seeing the first tendril of smoke, then lift the device off the wood and scrape the heated area.  That plan failed when I moved to my first overhead piece.  I held the device in place and counted to almost six when I saw a smoke tendril .  I hadn’t accounted for the fact that heat rises, and an overhead application does not allow heat to disperse like a vertical application does.

The doorways were more involved because of the door stop trim piece.  Each area of doorway thus requires two angled heat applications to get into all the corners.  The doorways had enjoyed the same design interpretations as the windows.  My favorite was the bathroom door, which in the past few decades had been painted magenta, then sparkly silver, followed by black.

With the Silent Paint Remover I was able to clean up the vast majority of the windowsills and doorways in just a few weekends.


Do you live there?

As you can imagine, this project is a big part of our lives. And we talk about it a lot. Not so much as to bore people, but our friends and neighbors frequently ask us for an update.

Just about every conversation includes the question, “Do you live there yet?”  Of course the answer to that is no. There is no electricity, no plumbing and of course no heat.  We’ll live there someday, but not anytime soon.

So where do we live?

You may recall that we had been working on a project in Elmhurst for the past few years. Last spring when we bought this building on 15th St. we clocked our travel to the city and back to Elmhurst at 45 miles, round-trip.  We did that trip many times in the spring of 2009.  That is certainly not sustainable, nor was it any help to our sanity.

We decided we really needed a place in the city … but how would we find a comforting home on a temporary basis?  One day we were at brunch with some very cool friends at their place, the HUB Housing Cooperative.  (HUB stands for “Housing for Urban Bicyclists.”)  As it turns out, they had a unit for sale and our friend Ted was interested in renting it to us.  So we moved in last Memorial Day weekend.

The HUB is a six-unit co-op right at 24th and Marshall Boulevards in the Little Village neighborhood. It’s an intentional community comprised of 11 people, 4 cats, 2 dogs, 3 worm bins and more than 50 bikes.  The group meets once a week to talk about business and there are lots of social opportunities.  I’ve known many of the people who live here for about 10 years through Critical Mass and other bicycling activities.  They are truly a great bunch.

The unit we’re living in right now is for sale.  It’s about 1,000 square feet with big windows and lots of light.  And lots of built-in friends. The kitchen looks out onto the boulevard. If you think you might be interested in buying the share of the co-op that is this unit, please let us know and we’ll pass your info along.


Linoleum Tile Must Go – Part III

Let’s be positive: The wonderful thing about removing linoleum tile is that two rooms are never the same.  Sort of like that proverbial box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.  With the triumph of the upstairs kitchen (see 08/25/2009 post) and dining room (see 08/26/2009 post) under my belt, I decided to attack the first-floor entrance hallway next.  I had all my tools at the ready, and my strength gathered…


Here we have tiles made of cardboard stuck down with what looks like Elmer’s glue.  How anticlimactic.  They came up like butter using the Big Mutt tool that our friend Jay leant us.

Figuring that I must be getting pretty good at this, I set my sights on the remaining rooms that had tiles. Some came up very easily using the Big Mutt tool, while others were much more stubborn and required serious strength. Those glued down with asphalt based adhesive were painful to remove. When the Big Mutt tool failed, I had to go back to the Silent Paint Remover (see also 08/25/2009 post).

At the end, I had one tiny room left, the little entrance vestibule at the front door.   As I peeled up the first few tiles I realized that something wonderful was hidden underneath.


It was very rewarding to finish this big task with the discovery of this little treasure.