The Herald Bulletin

October 26, 2013

Renovation continues on dilapidated tax sale house

Second floor repairs include wiring, paint scraping

By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin

---- — ALEXANDRIA — Faithful readers have repeatedly requested a renovation update on the house I bought at the tax sale. I am overdue in telling my tales and have also been remiss in posting on my blog.

Perhaps it is because I have a bad habit of collecting part-time jobs. I am currently a writer, a construction worker and an Algebra 2 teacher. I think I am in need of career counseling.

I had been hesitant because I knew flooring would make such a difference in the pictures – and flooring is last. However, when my scheduled house for this week cancelled at the last minute, my pictures started looking a lot better.

Once I had the bathroom, kitchen and laundry room finished, I wanted to complete the second floor. Huge holes and long, jagged cracks in the plaster littered the walls of all three bedrooms. Although my failed electrician had added to the original damage by knocking many extra holes into the walls, he had wired nothing.

My first step was to climb into the attic and run wires for outlets, overhead lights and the fan for the bathroom. Some of the old knob-and-tube wiring was still in place and could be used to pull the new wires through the wall, making the process easier.

While I stretched wires and plotted locations, my dad, Carl Bowen, scraped peeling textured paint off the walls in one of the bedrooms. I’ve never seen paint that had to be scraped off a surface before, but it was peeling badly enough that mudding over it was not an option. Still, it was more difficult to remove than wallpaper – and it even covered the ceiling.

Once I had the wire to the sweet spot, Dad would lay aside his putty knife and pull the wire through the wall to the outlet or switch. While wiring in the crawl space, I had longed for the joy of being in the attic. After the twentieth time I bumped my head on the rafters, the crawl space was sounding pretty good.

Old houses are notorious for a lack of closet space. Two of the bedrooms had the dinkiest closets imaginable. By constructing two walls in unusable space behind the door of one room, we added a second closet.

The other bedroom was a little trickier. The already-existing, step-down closet is positioned in an alcove and no other area allowed for a second closet without seriously damaging room size. Walling off the alcove to create a large closet would have closed off one of the windows.

Instead we built out the wall into the alcove a couple of feet and added a rod and shelf behind it. This saves the light from the window and creates a storage area tucked away and invisible from the rest of the room or the hall.

Oddly enough, the master bedroom had two closets – one a decent size and one a step-down, walk-in space that possibly doubled as a room for a cradle. The first closet shared a wall with the bathroom, which only had a toilet and sink.

We knocked down this wall and installed a shower inside the former closet. By removing a set of shelves and repositioning the sink, we created enough space for a person to move around without getting claustrophobia. By using the sink cut-out from the kitchen countertop as a shelf situated under a mirror, we created a second primping area.

Repairing the holes in the walls required cutting rectangular shapes into the plaster so we could cut drywall pieces to fit. Drywall tape and a lot of mud eventually covered the blemishes, but I did have to float all the walls.

I tried to create a smooth look in two of the bedrooms, but this took an unbelievable amount of time and I am still not totally happy with the results. For the number of hours I put into that project, I expect perfection.

By the time I reached the third bedroom, I textured the walls. So pleased with the result (and time savings), I also textured the hallway walls and will continue to use this technique. This still takes a great deal of time, but it hides a multitude of sins.

We seriously considered tearing down the shed, as it looked like a small breeze would topple it. After a great deal of repair work by my father, the installation of a new roof (my first time shingling), and a paint job, the shed looks great. Much larger than it appears, the 12 foot by 20 foot structure even has attic space.

Step by step and inch by inch, progress will continue. 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.