Dan's Kitchen: Demolition Part the First: The Exploratory Phase

Renovation Diary

The upper cabinets after removing the soffit, which exposed a cast iron waste pipe and some plaid wallpaper from one of the kitchen’s previous lives. The diagonal section of waste pipe on the right will be concealed within an upper cabinet.
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Name: Dan Bailey
Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: East Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Type of building: 2nd Floor Condo in a Greek-Revival Row House

The Renovation Diaries are a collaboration with our community in which we feature your step by step renovation progress and provide monetary support towards getting it done in style. See all of our Reno Diaries here.

When you’re living with a fully functional kitchen that includes a spacious refrigerator, a sink with running water, and a working stove, you tend to take these things for granted. This week, as my kitchen began to devolve into a construction site, I suddenly and traumatically stopped taking these things for granted.

Early in the week I transferred the entire contents of the kitchen – dishes, silverware, cooking utensils, non-perishable food, everything – to two closets in the living room. And then I set up a sad little temporary kitchen in a corner of the living room. It consists of a tiny cube fridge and a microwave, and it reminds me of living in a college dorm, which brings up some mixed emotions, including nostalgia and an intense desire to never live in a dorm again.

The temporary kitchen setup.
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Once I’d cleaned out the kitchen, I got to work. I like to think of what came next as “Demolition Phase 1: The Exploratory Phase” in which I began to get answers to questions like, what’s under the vinyl flooring? is there anything in that soffit above the cabinets? And why does this section of wall stick out six inches further than the wall next to it?

The condition of the original floors hidden beneath the vinyl flooring was one of the biggest unknowns going into this renovation. Before work began, I envisioned pulling up the vinyl to reveal pristine pine floors, which, after a quick and easy refinishing job, would perfectly match the flooring in the rest of the apartment. I didn’t really consider what I would do if this turned out not to be the case. New flooring certainly isn’t in my budget.

So with some trepidation I set to work pulling up a section of flooring in the center of the kitchen. The vinyl sheeting was barely attached to the subfloor, so it came right up. The 1/4-inch plywood subfloor, which had been laid directly on top of the original floor, was more tenacious, but a pry bar and claw hammer made short work of it. Once I’d removed enough nails that I could pull up a corner of the plywood sheet, I gently lifted it up and peeked at the floor underneath. Thankfully, the original flooring was still there.

The original pine flooring, hidden beneath a layer of plywood and vinyl, needs some work, but looks like it will be salvageable.
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It's wide-plank pine like the rest of the apartment, and while it’s not in perfect condition, it looks salvageable. It's completely unfinished and a little splintery, but that’s nothing that can't be fixed with sanding and a few coats of polyurethane. What's more concerning is a one foot by one foot hole in the floor in the center of the kitchen. At some point someone patched the hole with scrap lumber, but I'll need to find a more presentable way to patch it. My current plan is to remove a few original floorboards from a closet to patch the kitchen floor. I’ll replace the missing floorboards in the closet with new lumber, where it will be out of sight.

The drop ceiling was concealing some pretty sketchy-looking electrical work.
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The next order of business was to take down the drop ceiling and the soffit above the upper cabinets to expose some of the kitchen’s plumbing and electrical work. The soffit turned out to be mostly empty, except for a large cast iron waste pipe that runs horizontally along the ceiling and then turns and runs vertically down the back wall to the right of the cabinets. I’m planning to install upper cabinets that reach to the ceiling, but at the point where the waste pipe turns, there’s a diagonal section of pipe that will block an upper cabinet. After discussing this problem with my contractor, we decided that the best solution would be to cut a cabinet box to fit around this section of pipe. This seems to be the best way to conceal the pipe, even though it means roughly half of one of the upper cabinets will be unusable.

Once I had removed the drop ceiling tiles, I was confronted with a mess of electrical wiring tangled around pipes and draped across the ceiling supports. I know almost nothing about electrical work, but I’m willing to bet that there are at least a few code violations here. Of course, I’ll need to have an electrician take a look at it.

An exploratory cutout in a section of existing drywall revealed the first terrible surprise of the renovation: an exterior brick wall full of gaps and holes.
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One of the kitchen’s other mysteries is a section of wall adjacent to the window that sticks out six inches further than the wall next to it. As I stared at this wall the other day, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great to have a few extra inches of space in this corner of the room? I wonder what’s behind this wall anyway? And then I cut a hole in the wall. I removed a section of drywall from between two studs, so that I could easily patch the hole if I decided to keep the wall where it is. As I looked through this rectangular cutout, the wall seemed to be mostly empty. It’s actually a short section of exterior wall where the building juts out past the row house next door, which may explain the extra thickness. There isn’t any insulation, so I could see straight through to the exterior brick. And then as I looked closer I noticed daylight streaming through some alarmingly large gaps in the exterior masonry. The gaps are big enough to allow water and who-knows-what-else to enter the building. Bad news. Since this is an exterior wall, it’s common property for the building, but it’s one more thing that will need to be repaired during this renovation.

Estimated time for project: 12 weeks
Time remaining: 11 weeks

Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us next week for installment #5 of Dan's Kitchen Renovation.

(Images and diary text: Dan Bailey)

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