The Herald Bulletin

January 19, 2013

Tricky maneuvers

Outdoor work on restoration project became a creative adventure

By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin

ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — Progress on my restoration project continues to be slow, but the changes are starting to turn heads. Neighbors watched (and shouted approval) as we moved to the exterior before we lost the decent weather.

Once I started on the windows, I realized that I had completely underestimated their number — and what their condition meant in terms of workload. Modern windows are sectioned with grates as a convenient divider. In my 1890-built home, each small window is, in fact, a small window.

As I scraped them, every bit of glazing fell out, leaving the panes free to fall to the ground. Before I could even think of repainting, this had to be addressed. Multiply regular scraping by re-caulking by the fact that each window was actually seven to nine windows — I had added a couple more weeks to my project.

To hamper me further, we had a very wet fall. After such a dry summer, I forgot that it could rain. Weather almost pushed painting until spring.

Once I had the windows ready, I called my dad, Carl Bowen because the major grunt work was about to begin. I don’t call Dad for trim work, I call him when I need a mountain moved.

And painting a two-story aluminum-sided house is a lot like moving a mountain.

Ladder acrobatics

Using a power washer and detergent-bleach mix, we removed the chalky residue from the surface. Then we used a small paint sprayer to apply the primer.

Neither one of us had ever used a paint sprayer before and, to tell the truth, I had very small hopes it would work. Contraptions rarely work for me, so I also had rollers, pans and a return receipt at the ready.

I couldn’t get it to work. Dad couldn’t get it to work. But Dad’s friend, Vince Forrester, stopped by with the magic touch. We moved buckets and ladders and covered windows for him, hoping he wouldn’t put down the sprayer and end the enchantment. He didn’t.

Except for the high places. Acrobatics on ladders is Dad’s forte — mostly because he knows no fear. He put the 40-foot extension ladder in the bed of his truck to reach the pinnacle on one side. He did the same in the front and even used a bungee cord to attach it to a second extension ladder which laid across the sloping roof to provide footing.

The next day we borrowed a Lift-A-Loft to reach the other side — which required us to place the ladder in the bucket and crank it to the second story. He climbed one ladder to get to the bucket and the second ladder to the siding.

I’m pretty sure that isn’t an approved method.

Once the primer was in place, it was time to start the process all over again with gray paint. Now that we had a system, we were able to knock it out in one day. Then we worked on the white trim with help from Ball State student Zach Stricklin.

That paint sprayer was a life saver and, quite possibly, the best money I’ve ever spent.

Back on the inside, much of the horsehair plaster in the laundry room had to be removed. We installed drywall and built a closet. I wired the outlets, a light in the closet and a three-way switch on the main light.

A worrisome ceiling, with two access holes, massive cracking and six large holes (courtesy of my failed electrician), was repaired with plaster and a nice texture. To camouflage uneven walls, I textured them with drywall mud, which also repaired plaster cracks and added character.

Cabinet doors were painted and new hardware was installed.

Tiling the floor was extremely difficult, as many cuts were made for the landing to the basement stairs, the pantry, the closet and the desk area. My sons, Elijah, 15, Isaac, 13, and Zeke, 11, all took turns at the tile saw for me — and no one lost a finger!

To read more about my adventures — and see more pictures — check out my blog at

Emma Bowen Meyer has purchased a dilapidated home through the Madison County tax sale. Her column will occasionally follow the continuing saga of the restoration project.