Rebirth of a 1918 House
Recovery from a House Fire
A few years ago my sister had a wiring fire in the attic of her vintage house. "Old wiring, overlaid at some point with insulation, " said the fireman, "so we get these fires." The fire burned through the ceiling in both the dining room and my sister's bedroom.
The firemen used their fire axes to cut out the fire-involved 2x4's. The house had no electricity then until the old wiring could be replaced. There was smoke damage throughout and the house couldn't be lived in, so my sister moved into a rental property while the wiring was replaced.
Here's a look into the process of bringing a 1918 Kansas house back after a fire.
Photo by HeyToto (used with permission)
The fire broke though from the attic into the dining room here
Where the fire broke through the ceiling into my sister's bedroom
Firemen to the Rescue!
The firemen were very thorough and even put down protective plastic in some areas before spraying down the fire.
Graphic from Zazzle: Fire Thank You Card 1 by kastlerose
How NOT to splice electrical wires. Original knob and tube on left, romex on right, with open splices in the middle.
My Sister's Account of the Fire Recovery
Journal of a House Fire - In Emergency Mode - November 2009
- November 7 - Fire at our house this morning in the attic. This is not the way I planned to spend the day. Pretty heavy smoke damage and no electricity now, plus holes in the ceiling of one bedroom and the dining room. My daughter, the cats, and I are all good. The fire department did an amazing job. We are in a hotel temporarily.
- November 10 - ServiceMaster pulled up carpets so they could start drying things out with huge fans. They also have a machine that's an air scrubber and they hooked that up. The ozone thing will be next and that removes all the oxygen from the houise for 72 hours; that's why the cats had to go to the vets for boarding. The ozone treatment breaks up the smoke molecules to elliminate odors. They use an ozone generator.
Spent about 10 hours today at the house meeting with the insurance adjusters and all the others that had to be called in to consult. Aarrgh!
We're doing pretty good. My daughter had to go back college and all 3 cats went to the vet to be boarded while they ozone the house, a smoke treatment. We'll get through this!
- November 11 - Well, I can barely hobble around after a couple of 10 hour days meeting at the house with various people. We're making rapid progress. The whole-house rewire was a nasty surprise though. My electrician won't take the job because it's his opinion that it shouldn't be required. And most likely the code upgrade supplement provided by my insurance policy will not cover a total house rewire. I'm getting bids to see where we end up on this.
Woo-hoo. I want to have someone on my household staff ironing my pj's all the time! They did an overnight rush on 2 weeks of clothing, so that was delivered Tuesday. Weird to be standing in my driveway having a guy present me with a chi-chi little bag of my undies!
My sinuses are definitely noticing the smoke. Tuesday when the cats were still there and I was meeting with people at the house, Nellie kept wandering through coughing since she has asthma and the smoke was aggravating it. Kind of funny though!
The temporary housing people just called with a likely rental house where I'll be able to have the cats. I'll take a look at it today. I had given her the name of the guy that owns 2 rental properties on my block and he does have one available a couple of blocks away. I'll take a look at it today. With the refinery turnaround going on, I think I'm probably lucky to get something! It looks like I'll be out of my house for a minimum of maybe 2 months.
I got to talk to my actual supervisor at work (a rarity!) and she has given me emergency leave without pay. I plan to go back Saturday, but it looks like I may have to take her up on the extension she offered if I needed it.
After 2 (very) full days at the house with the insurance adjusters, textile restoration crew, ServiceMaster, electricians, city code guy, and contractors, I finally can see where I'm going to need help! The city code inspector is requiring a full house re-wire, so that's going to include the small workshop--type building behind the house and the garage. Servicemaster will be boxing up the house contents and taking care of that, but I will have to get my own boxes and pack up/throw away stuff in the outbuildings so the electrician can get in and do what he needs to do. I'm gonna need boxes and people to help do that!
Journal of a Fire - Relocating - November 2009
- November 14 - had dinner with my sister and brother at Gambino's last night. Took my shorted-out wire for show-and-tell. Owen seemed to enjoy hearing about my fire, plus he knows all the electricians and contractors that I've been talking too. Thanks, Susan--it was a good time!
....and THANKS, Mom, for finishing up that laundry I started at your house. Guess I didn't pull out enough from the textile restoration people to last 2 weeks, huh? One pair of socks and underwear--what was I thinking! Well, I wasn't, obviously. Sorry that my laundry triggered a plumbing emergency at your house though! Aarrgh.
- November 16 - Not moving in today 'cause the deposit check is still in transit. The cats have heat at the rental, but no heat at the burned house because the city code guy won't approve anything. Meeting a plumber there later today to winterize the plumbing to keep it from freezing. :-(
- November 17 - Back to work today after a week plus of emergency leave. Still not in the rental house. Still haven't settled on contractor/electrician to do work. All the electricians that I've had look at it say one thing; city code officer thinks he knows better.
Relocation company has been waiting for the deposit for house and rental furniture from my insurance company. Finally today they decided they could go ahead with the rental since "the check's in the mail." The cats have been living at the rental house since last Thursday, thanks to the nice landlord.
- November 18 - Tomorrow I get to move out of the hotel and into a rental house. At last.
Although I will say I kind of like the enforced simplicity of living in a hotel. Makes me think of George Carlin's riff on "stuff."
- November 19 - Furniture Options will deliver my "stuff" to the rental at 9:30, so guess I'd better get a move on. They said they'll be there about 3 hours because they assemble, install, and put everything in cupboards. AND they make the beds!!! If you're shopping for insurance, I can't recommend Farmer's Insurance highly enough!
Later, same day - Met with a contractor today that I really felt good about. If his bid works out, they could start early next week. The re-wiring itself will take a full week, but it's hard to pin them down on how long. Don't know how long I'll be in the rental.
In addition to my actual furniture rental through my insurance, apparently I'm also getting a Survival Package. ;-)
- November 20 - I have three deliriously happy cats. They were freaked out by the fire and the aftermath and are very happy to have me living with them again!
- November 23 - Starting to feel sort of homey here in the rental with the furniture on loan and the survival kit. My daughter was here this weekend and did some cleaning and baking, so it SMELLS like home now! The landlord is having the roof replaced this week, so the cats are living in terror because of all the noise up there. I just hope those guys don't come through the roof!
The George Carlin Video on STUFF
Journal of a Fire - Cleaning Up - December 2009
- December 1 - Guess I need to make an appointment to go visit my winter clothes in Wichita.
- Dec 9, 2009 - Well, finally! My contractor's bid has been approved by my insurance company and they'll get started tomorrow getting permits from the City and coordinating with ServiceMaster on packing stuff and moving it off-site so they can get to work. They will be doing a complete re-wire of the house so that it's in compliance with the City's current code requirements. My house was built in 1918, so that's a big project.
I'm in a furnished rental house (provided by my insurance) for the duration of the project. I was in a hotel for the first couple of weeks.
All my smoke-damaged textiles (that means everything we own basically!) were cleaned by a textile restoration company (at a cost of about $6,000 to my insurance) and are in storage in Wichita until the house is ready. I went over there last week and picked up winter coats and clothes.
Susan had warned that this all takes a lot longer than you expect, and she was certainly right about that. I'm just glad we're finally getting somewhere on the project! And while I know any one of you would have taken us in after the fire, it sure is nice to have a place provided by my insurance!
Thanks, everyone, for all your help!
- December 14 - Tomorrow morning ServiceMaster packs up the rooms that actually had fire damage and moves the stuff somewhere else in the house. Wednesday morning the contractors start work!!!!
Professionals to Help after a Fire
The service links I'm posting are all the companies that my insurance company, Farmers, has contracted with to come in on my cleanup. I've been totally blown away by the level of service Farmers is providing.
- Furniture Options
Furniture and housewares rental. Survival Packages
- SERVICE MASTER: CLEAN-IN-A-WINK
ServiceMaster has spent 45 years becoming an expert in: * Post-disaster emergency cleaning * Smoke and soot removal * Odor removal * Water damage restoration * Severity control through damage mitigation Firebird 3D by In_Orange
Journal of the Fire - Rehab and Recovery - January 2010
- January 5 - Today, they say....today, the electricians will REALLY be at my house to start rewiring it.
- January 7 - Very little water damage, and that was to the carpet and pad, and walls and ceilings, of course. The carpet couldn't be saved. The textile company did a great job. Everything that they have in storage is organized and easily accessible. Their tech person did a complete inventory as he packed it all up at my house. None of the stuff I've gotten back smells of smoke at all.
- January 7 - The electricians are finishing up the re-wiring of the house this week. Today was their 3rd full day. Then the city inspector has to come in and approve what they've done. After that hurdle is cleared, the construction company will start on the walls and ceilings and put insulation back in the attic and some walls. The rest of the carpet will be removed and hauled away (hallway, dining room, living room) and the plan is for them to do a light refinishing of the floors, which are narrow pine boards, and not replace the carpeting. But that kind of depends on the rest of the floor looking as good as what we're seeing so far (when the rest of the carpet is removed). I do know from the previous owner that there is a mismatched patch between living room and dining room from when they removed the floor furnace and put in central heating and air.
- The City served me with a code violation letter on Christmas Eve for the contractor's trailer being parked on my property. I turned that over to the contractor to respond to because I was just too angry! The story he got was that the code violation officer didn't realize there were construction permits issued for the property. Hmmm. Seems like that would be something she would check on.
- January 22 - House Fire Update: The full-house rewire has passed city inspection and the fixtures are almost all back in place. Sheet rocking and spraying in new insulation were on the "to do" list today. We're maybe 5 days away from having Service Master come back in for thorough cleanup, after which S & A Contractors will finish up with the floors.
- January 22 - We're very fortunate. It's been a hassle to be uprooted for 3+ months, but on the other hand we have a house to go back to. Drove by the house that burned on North Summit today and see that they're clearing that house away. They weren't as lucky--the structure was a total loss. It wasn't long before the entire structure was bulldozed down to the foundation.
The Yard Took a Beating from All the Worker's Vehicles
The other house fire, several weeks after mine.
Fire Recovery Journal - Getting Close to Moving Back in - February 2010
- February 5 - Ruskin Room Green for the dining room of my 1918 foursquare cottage--from the Sherwin-Willliams line of historic Arts & Crafts paints.
- February 11 - 8 am appointment with contractor to do another walk-thru and create final punch list of things left to do after ServiceMaster comes in for clean-up.
Back from the walk-thru. I guess the next step is the floors and THEN ServiceMaster. Makes sense. Keep your fingers crossed that the price is right on the floor refinishing estimate. If not, we have to settle for carpet. :-(
The contractor's electrician discovered broken water pipes under the house when he was working on rewiring the furnace. We had a local plumbing company winterize the house back before the first freeze--this wasn't supposed to happen!
My sister said maybe they would stand behind their work and fix it. However, my initial contact with them on the matter gave me the impression that they want to figure out a way for it to be my fault and my problem. :-(
I was supposed to get a call back this afternoon to meet the plumber at the house, but that call never came.
- February 12 - We got lucky and the estimate on the floor upgrade was just 100 bucks above what the insurance had allowed for carpet replacement, so that's manageable. I told them to get started! Exciting!
- February 14 - I had fun giving impromptu tours of the construction site that is my house after my brother's birthday party.
- February 15 - The floor crew begins work on refinishing my pine floors TODAY.
The construction project manager....is on his way to Florida, but seems to be doing a good job of managing nonetheless. And the plumber....enters stage left. He's there to see what the problem is and to make sure the broken pipes the electrician saw are the ONLY broken pipes. We just don't know at this point.
Later/Same Day - Frozen water pipes repaired and house has now been de-winterized. We've been able to use the furnace back on ever since they finished the rewiring of the house.
Just a week away from moving back home!!!!!!! The furniture has been in the house during all this, getting abused and covered in construction dust. Originally, ServiceMaster was supposed to remove everything off-site, but then decided it could stay. BIG MISTAKE to let them get away with that!
February 15 - There is an old Korean superstition about living in a house that has had a fire. The fire cleanses old energies and brings good fortune. I believe it's part of the Korean version of Chinese Feng Shui. It's practiced in India, as well, and called Vaastu Shastra there.
- February 16 - I saw the floors this evening before they started staining them. They still needed to sand down the wood putty.
- February 17 - Can't get time off from work, so have to reschedule ServiceMaster to come for cleaning on Monday. We are SO close to moving back home!!
- February 18 - I opened Rush Plumbing's bill tonight--they think I should pay almost 300 bucks to fix the frozen water pipes that broke....after being winterized by Rush Plumbing!
- February 22 - Ack. Too much going on. Moving back into our house by the end of the week.
Today: Contractor moved furniture back in place; ServiceMaster cleaned house.
Tuesday: Electrician and contractor finish punch list. Wednesday: ServiceMaster to clean kitchen carpet.
Thursday: Cox reinstalls cable and internet services; CRDN delivers textiles and re-hangs drapes. Also on Thursday: Meet with owner of plumbing company to discuss bill that I don't intend to pay.
Friday: Furniture Solutions picks up furniture from rental house. Sunday: Turn in keys to rental landlord.
Unscheduled as of yet: Mortgage company sends inspector to check that repair work was actually done.
New Breaker Box (rewiring after the fire)
The Floors - click on a picture to see it largerClick thumbnail to view full-size
Fire Recovery Journal - The Move Back Home - March 2010
- March 7, 2010 - Still have (hopefully) one more carload of stuff to bring over from the other house. THEN I can start unpacking here.
- March 8, 2010 - Too, too much to do on my day off. Everything is out of the rental, but that last load of "stuff" is still in the car. It's chilly and gray and rainy here. (Which I love, actually, but it's not my friend today!) I guess it is nice--it could be ice and snow and frigid temps!
- I'm getting a slow start today after my super-human efforts last night. I have a long list of errands to run today....in the rain. :-(
- Now rain is pouring down!
- March 10, 2010 - I wish I could just wave a magic wand over all the boxes and they would unpack themselves!
- March 18, 2010 - My college-age daughter has worked like a dog this week while she's been home for Spring Break and she unpacked many, many boxes. She has the living room whipped into shape and even polished the new floors. After we unpacked all the textile restoration company boxes (CRDN), we realized our oriental rugs and other large rugs were MIA. Ack! Turned out they were caught up in a turf war between ServiceMaster and CRDN. ServiceMaster took them from CRDN because they wanted that part of the job. Just one more instance of ServiceMaster not getting along with the other members of the team on this project. They have repeatedly thrown their weight around and cherry picked the primo parts of the insurance project. I stopped recommending this company--ServiceMaster Clean in a Wink, Wichita--some time back.
- March 20, 2010 - It's not just snowing, it's SNOWING! And, our fireplace is still a work in progress.
Fire Recovery Journal - The Saga Continues - April 2010
- April 15, 2010 - My sister is visiting from Florida. She helped me get my headboard attached to my bed. Then she moved boxes for me from the dining room and utility room to the enclosed porch. Lots still to unpack.
- April 22, 2010 - I want to scream and kick something. The mortgage company claims not to have received the fire documents they need so they won't release the funds for my contractor. I sent the documents and checks to them via certified mail in early March. They don't care. I have to send them again. That only took 40 minutes of "waiting on the phone" time.
Continuing Issues after the Rehab - Spring and Summer 2010
- June 5, 2010 - .....it's now June and yet another go-round with the mortgage company. "You'll have to send those documents again--we don't have anything in your file" (except for the insurance checks I sent--of course they got those!). At this point, I'm sure the building contractor thinks I just spent the insurance money and am stalling about paying them!
- June 16, 2010 - The saga continues! The inspector from the mortgage company has actually made contact, but he's from Manhattan so we're having trouble finding a mutual inspection time that works. :-(
On the bright side, last week my daughter painted the kitchen (Sherwin-Williams Studio Blue Green) and the living room (S-W Ruskin Room Green to match the fire-damaged dining room). She also repainted our front steps in S-W Roycroft Copper Red. Really nice!
- July 1, 2010 - Another day, another appointment with the mortgage company inspector to OK completion of repairs after my house fire. PNC is sending someone from Manhattan, FGS, and he never keeps any of his appointments with me and complains when I'm not there when he happens to show up! What a piece of work he is!
- July 1, 2010 - (later, that same day) Well, whaddya know?! The mortgage inspector actually showed up!
2010 - 2011 Further Complications after the Fire
- The plumber threatened me with a lawsuit, so I paid for their work on the frozen pipes in spite of it being their fault. Hiring a lawyer and going to court was bound to get expensive.
- And in December of this year (2010), I was notified by Farmers Insurance that they were canceling my homeowner's insurance effective the end of January. I've had to obtain more expensive insurance through my state's FAIR insurance program. That's the last-ditch insurance you can only get if you are shut out of the private insurance market. :-(
- But the saddest outcome was the loss of our cat Nellie shortly before Thanksgiving of this year. She was asthmatic and never really recovered from the smoke inhalation, even with regular steroid shots to help her with her breathing. We miss her terribly. She came to live with us when we bought the house in 2000 and she was about a year old. But my daughter and I certainly enjoy the house with its fresh paint, newly revealed hardwood floors, and safe wiring.
Putting Fresh Paint on the Front Steps - June 2010
The 1918 house getting back to normal.
I certainly enjoy the house with its fresh paint, newly revealed hardwood floors, and safe wiring.
Researching a 1918 House
Card Catalog graphic on a card by kmk101773
A Catalog Showing House Plans from the Period
This is a Dover books reprint of a house catalog published back in 1917.
Choosing the Right Paint
for a 1918 House
My sister had always appreciated the heritage behind her vintage house. After the fire, there was an opportunity to incorporate some authentic details such as the right colors of interior paint for that period of house. Here's some of her research.
"The walls of the living room and adjoining dining room will be a soft moss green. Ruskin Room Green for the dining room of my 1918 foursquare cottage--from the Sherwin-Willliams line of historic Arts & Crafts paints.
We're leaving the narrow-board pine floors uncarpeted. The woodwork in the living room and dining room is unpainted dark pine."
Bungalow Style - Classic Interiors
Books like this can help you get the right period look for your vintage house. Check the public library for copies.
Popular Paint for Houses in 1918
- 1918 Seroco Paint
Daily Bungalow's 1918 Seroco Paint set shows a very nice series of interior and exterior of homes from this period and the paint styles.
Repainting (colors are hubbard squash and white hyacinth)
Researching a Period House
Her house is called a foursquare and includes craftsman styling in the woodwork like the fireplace mantel. Learn more about Craftsman houses with the featured books. If they aren't available at your public library, you can buy them here (from Amazon).
Researching the 1918 House's Architecture
- American Foursquare, 1890-1930 | Old House Web
housing and architectural styles - american foursquare
- The American Foursquare | Realtor Magazine
a Foursquare home typically has these features: Â· Two stories, with an attic and a full basement (but they can also be one storey, like my sister's house) Â· Boxy shape Â· One-story porch across the front Â· Squat, pyramid-shaped roof Â· Single dor
- The American Foursquare House (click here to see the whole article)
Classic Cottage A relative of the Foursquare is the much smaller cottage version with only one floor, a hipped roof and central dormer, and full width front porch supported by simple columns.
- The Starlight - A Sears Home (click here to see the layout and description)
This one from 1927 seems very similar to my sister's 1918 house in appearance and floorplan. It cost $1,543.
The Vintage House Book: Classic American Homes 1880-1980 - Book available from Amazon
Decade by decade you'll see how the style of houses changed (inside and out). This features vintage ads, floor plans and shows light fixtures and other details.
An Ousted Fireplace May Be Back
Since the house is in total chaos as contractors work to repair damage from the November fire, we decided we might as well take advantage of the momentum to take the fireplace back to the 1918 original. We needed something to get excited about with all the "ugh" of the fire experience, so this project is just what I needed.
We have wanted to tackle this fireplace ever since we bought the house. It had been modernized sometime mid-century (20th!) to coordinate with the gold-flocked wallpaper and wall-to-wall carpeting. So the mantel had been replaced with a contemporary wood mantel painted sort of a gold color. The hearth was updated with white tiles. And the fireplace itself was fronted with a swirly white/gold laminate--we think we'll find the original brick under all that. We knew the original 1918 Arts & Crafts mantel had been transferred to the garage to use as a work shelf.
Links about Old Fireplaces
- Classic Bungalows - Arts & Crafts Fireplaces
Articles and information about North America's most popular historic building style. The Bungalow revival continues as homeowners rediscover the charm that made these houses so livable.
One of the original pocket doors is sealed up in the wall between the two rooms; the other one is now the front door of the house, moved there when they enclosed the front porch. The previous owner (the 3rd) said the story was that the widow of the first owner stopped by the lumber yard on the way home from his funeral to order the lumber for the front porch to be enclosed.
(photos by HeyToto, my sister)
117 House Designs of the Twenties
This reprint of an original catalog shows detailed floor plans and delightful paintings showing the finished houses. It includes one and two-story house plans, all the popular roof styles of the period and can be a huge help in identifying a vintage house.
Wallpaper That Was in Three Rooms (Probably doesn't date back to 1918)
Hunting for a Vintage Looking Light Fixture?
This is a classic look that would fit quite well with a 1918 house.
Old Wallpaper Found in a Drawer (Maybe from the kitchen, but no telling its age)
More Useful Sites - for anyone rehabbing an old house
- Old House Online (on Facebook)
This site is devoted to period-appropriate decorating, furnishing and design. Old-House Online offers inspiration and advice through photos of outstanding period-inspired interiors, educated guidance and references, and articles from Old-House Journa
- How to Protect Your Home from Fires - Old-House Online - Old-House Online
Learn the risks and plan ahead to ensure that you and your old house have the best possible chance of surviving a blaze. Old-House
Books about Period Houses from the Teens and Twenties
Learn more about the kit houses and Sears houses from the early 1900s.
Mail Order Houses from Sear, Roebuck
These houses were shipped by rail in the early days of the 20th century and assembled in towns across the country. Think you might have a Sears and Roebuck house? Take a look at this book to confirm your guess.
A Book to Help You Renovate an Old House
39 reviewers on Amazon gave this 5 stars. It's a comprehensive and practical guide to restoring an old house.
What Was Life Like in 1918 When This House Was Built?
Music in 1918
Great Links about 1918
- Musings on the 1918 bestseller list
1. The U.P. Trail by Zane Grey 2. The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair 3. The Amazing Interlude by Mary Roberts Rinehart 4. Dere Mable by Edward Streeter 5. Oh, Money! Money! by Eleanor H. Porter 6. Greatheart by Ethel M. Dell 7. The Major by Ralph Con
- The Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 - Could It Happen A...
The Spanish Flu of 1918 as well as other deadly viral outbreaks, can strike fear in the hearts of all of us. Could one of them happen again?
Great Stuff on eBay Relating to 1918 Houses
If you own an old house, you're always on the look out for related ephemera that will shed some light on how the house looked when it was first built. Look around on eBay for vintage catalogs, advertisements and even light fixtures or woodwork.
Kansas Oil Boom - and El Dorado (where the 1918 house is)
To see the whole video, you have to go to http://watch.kpts.org/video/1359723060/
YouTube just has a teaser. It's a wonderful video telling about the importance of the El Dorado oil field to the WWI effort.
See the Full Video Here: Oil Dorado - The Life and Times of an Oil Boom
My mother's friend, Roxy Olmstead, is interviewed in this video.
- Oil Dorado: The Life and Times of an Oil Boom | KPTS Documentaries | PBS Video
From the 1910s through the 1950s, oil permeated every aspect of life in Butler County.
© 2010 Virginia Allain