...because home doesn't happen overnight.

Have I mentioned yet that the all exterior Underdog walls are cinder block?  Yep, behind the original plaster is cement block on all the perimeter walls.  Should the Big Bad Wolf come knocking on our door, we’re good.  All the huffing and puffing and ‘blow your house down’ won’t scare us. Structurally speaking, those block walls are a positive thing.  But when it comes to insulation and upgrading the electric, those walls pose a problem.

For one, there is no insulation in or on the cinder block walls.  We’re looking to improve the exterior wall insulation without compromising square footage…i.e., we don’t want to build out the walls to add a bunch of insulation if it means losing a bunch of floor space.  Even a few inches would qualify as a ‘bunch of floor space’ here.  Second, just for kicks, Handy Hubby tried fishing a new electrical wire between the block wall and its plaster overlay.  He worked at it for 15 minutes and got nowhere. And that was just one wire.  This house needs, like, a trillion new electrical wires run throughout. {The electric is original to the 1950’s home.}  To give you an idea, there is just the shallow depth of a single furring strip separating the plaster from the block.  Not exactly the optimal situation for blindly fishing a wire through.  It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘stuck between a rock and a hard place.’  So, after running through our options, thinking it over and trying to avoid the inevitable, we agreed that the plaster on the exterior walls would need to come down in order to upgrade the electric efficiently and properly.

Can you see where I’m going here?  I’m not one for excuses but this is why I haven’t posted for nearly 5 days.  My apologies.

Handy Hubby rented a dumpster last Friday for the long weekend and spent the holiday ripping out plaster walls with his dad.  God love those men.  I know a 20-yard dumpster full of plaster {albeit not asbestos…we had it professionally tested} and furring strips isn’t the greenest solution in the world but hopefully the improved insulation and electric will help to negate some of the dumpster effects.  With all the exterior cinder block walls exposed, the Underdog is really a clean slate. Take a look…

{view from the front door looking towards the kitchen}

You may have noticed that the laundry closet is non-existant.

Well, once HH started tearing down the plaster in the kitchen he discovered that the framing and header of the laundry closet had been badly destroyed by a previous termite infestation.  He decided to just tear it out and start from scratch since we were planning on opening up the door frame of the laundry nook anyway.  We’re also in talks about how to disguise the future radon mitigation system that will also live in the laundry closet.  It’s kind of crazy how open the house feels with that closet gone.  But as much as we like open spaces, we need a laundry area and I prefer one in the house as opposed to the garage.  The house sits on a slab, so there’s no basement to relocate the washer/dryer to.  So, even though we like the open feel, the laundry area will be reframed and remain in the same location.

Let us not forget that we need the laundry closet wall to act as a room barrier between the kitchen and dining room/mudroom and to house the future fridge, microwave and cabinetry.  If you look above, you’ll notice that we’ll still have a nice, wide walk-through that leads from the kitchen/living room to the dining room.  It should help to keep things feeling open and easy.

This is what the rest of the naked house is looking like:

{dining room/mudroom}

{living room}

{Everett’s bedroom}

{Layne’s bedroom}

{master bedroom}

Note:  Even though the bathrooms are both located on exterior walls, we’re leaving them alone for now.  They’ll get their own complete overhaul when the time is right!

How happy are you right now that you aren’t Handy Hubby and me?!  As bare-boned and raw as the Underdog looks, we actually feel great about having a clean slate to work with.  One of the big turn-offs when we were looking at cheap houses in the spring was seeing that some upgrades had been done on the houses but not knowing to what extent or what kind of quality work had been done because we couldn’t see through the walls.  We’re happy we decided to buy an untouched Underdog so we can oversee all DIY’d and hired out projects.  Speaking of DIY, HH is busy framing those cinder block walls this week so the new electric install can start soon.  We’re also looking at insulation options in the form of thin foam board and getting quotes on drywall and mudding.  And HH told me last night that I need to start contemplating flooring.  It’s funny.  I’ve been so excited to get my design lovin’ hands on the Underdog and now that it’s time to choose a design element, I’m feeling a little pressured.  I need to pick something that’s right for the house, our family, our budget and our aesthetic.  So many things to consider!

Well, that’s where our Underdog is as of now.  Our brick house.

She’s a brick.  Houuuuse.  She’s mighty, mighty.  Just lettin’ all hang out. Yes.  That’s our new reno anthem.

images: all Dana Miller for House*Tweaking



That looks just like my downtstairs! Except instead of plaster, it was cheap paneling (luckily). We decided to go crazy and build up actual 2×4 framed exterior walls to make room for new wiring and insulation, but we’ve got a bunch more space than you do so it didn’t hurt that bad to lose those few inches.

Good luck! I recently ran across your blog and I’m really enjoying watching the transformation of the new house. :)


I know that plaster and lathe has that old vintage-y feel, but really, it’s a pain in the rear. I love our 1940’s brick house (and the similar one I grew up in), but I hate constantly patching, the crumbling mess it makes, and in our case, the texture that I can’t get rid of because apparently it is now integral to the plaster’s strength. Who knew practically every house in Dallas had textured walls? Yuck.

I too recently found your blog (and design blogs in general, after moving on from wedding blogs — the honeymoons over and the decorating/home improvements begin) and am loving reading about your transformations!

Wow that’s a lot of demo! But it will be well worth it in the end for new electrical and insulation. To get the highest insulation values possible I’d look into spray foam. It’s not cheap but it will give you the highest R-value for that small space and you’ll need every bit you can get in Ohio with no insulation currently! ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) recommends a minimum of R-13 for your area.


Awesome work! Taking down plaster and carrying it to the dump is a pain, I can’t imagine doing as much as you did! I bet it’s a great feeling to be down to the bare bones, though. We’re in the middle of a basement reno and we had a hard time deciding if we’d work with what was there or demo and start from scratch. We demoed and we’re so happy we did. We found stuff that scared us behind the walls, mold and fires ready to happen at any moment. How is HH framing, still with furring strips?


A bare bones house! Oh the possibilities. I am excited to see your ideas with the laundry closet. That is what we have in our old ranch!


You two are hard workers. Taking out plaster is hard, messy work. I would love to take our house down to the studs and reconfigure our floor plan, but I love the solidness of plaster.


This would totally excite me and terrify me. At the same time. I love that you guys are such adventurers and I can watch this unfold from the safety and predictability of my apartment!

And choosing flooring? That’s when I would go into “analysis paralysis”. Going over the options time and again, the pros, the cons, the prices, the durability, etc and so forth… I am totally unable to make decisions when starting from scratch. But I love learning from others. Way to go!


I’m loving this! It’s kind of exciting in that “tune in tomorrow for the next exciting adventure” kind of way. Yeah, I don’t get out much. ;-)


Wow, Dana! The underdog really IS gutted. Those pictures represent a tremendous amount of work — both work that HH has already done and work that you still have ahead of you!!

Nice work! We hated the lath and plaster in our old 1910’s Bungalow, mostly because we never knew what was lurking behind, and it always the “Surrrr-prise!” element of every new improvement project, (and not in a good way.) It is going to be so nice for you guys to start with a clean slate.


We are doing a similar thing on an old house in Chicago, started in April and we just got insulation and drywall done last week. Everybody I talked to in the business said the best insulation you can do is 2″ spray insulation and than put the regular fiberglass pads on top of it. As a previous poster said, you need to figure out the R value that you need and go from there.


Mike – If I remember correctly and plans haven’t changed, I believe HH is framing with 2×2’s to get enough room for the foam board and electrical without intruding on precious floor space. I’ll keep you posted!

WOW. This is great. Now you both will know that everything is the way you want it and there is no questioning down the road if you need to update or upgrade something, because you two will have done it all. Look how open that is right now. Crazy…..in a good way. Completely understand that you have to put that wall back up. Makes the most sense for your kitchen. I can’t wait to see your next project. Keep up the great work!!! :-)


You are so right about the advantages of buying a house that’s never been remodeled! (Or remuddeled, in so many cases). And I’m sure you’ll take plenty of pictures before you cover everything back up, so you’ll know what’s hiding behind those new walls. Amazing how quickly we can forget, even when we’ve spent so much time looking at a project!


Holy cow, that’s a lot of work! HH is probably 3 steps ahead of us, but this looks like a good time to seal up any cracks with some hydraulic cement, to prevent any future leaks. spray foam is supposed to be great…we went with foam board over the (now waterproofed) cinder block in our basement, mostly because we were just replacing part of the wall, and any other option would result in a different thickness in the finished drywall…here are some ‘in progress’ photos:



You seem happy and excited. I’m happy for you!


I’ve lived in a construction zone for too long — I actually saw these pictures and said Oooooo! Something wrong with my brain that I love completely stripped houses.

But to your point, after 5 years tearing apart our condo and rebuilding it my husband and I thought we would want something completely finished for our next place. No more contruction zone! Then when we went looking for a new place we realized we disliked all the finished places and were drawn to the fixer-uppers for exactly the reason you stated — you never know what is lurking behind your walls and ceilings. We’d actually rather tear our house apart so that we KNOW how everything was built/rebuilt. All the finished, shiny places made us very nervous. So… back to living rough.



It’s really coming along, you guys are such hard workers! I just received an email this morning from Lowes about their July flooring event and thought of you (I have no affiliation, just thought it sounded like a good deal!). Online it says select wood, vinyl, laminate, carpet and tile are on sale for less than $1/sq foot this entire month.


HH has my sympathy.. Yesterday I finally finished painting my dining room, after weeks of tearing out slat and plaster walls (I have a pre-1900 home in Milwaukee), drywalling, mudding, sanding, mudding, sanding, etc… But the good news… I’m loving my new gray walls, partly inspired by your blog! Looking forward to more of your posts on the Underdog!


Sara – Thanks for the heads up! We’ll have to check out Lowe’s. This is why H*T readers are the best!


Vorpaks – I’m convinced this ‘fixer-upper’ thing is a disease. Would you agree? Can’t seem to get away from ’em! Our very first home was a fixer-upper that we ‘practiced’ on. The home we currently live in was brand spanking new when we bought it. It was a spec home. As much as liked knowing that is was new and up to code, we just can’t turn down a good renovation challenge…especially if it leaves us debt-free in the near, near future. Here’s to living rough!


Hmmm…no laundry huh? Well…you could have him frame it up so that it’s turned the other way…therefore not having a closet door in your dining area…:) Don’t know the measurements but he might be able to get creative so that you could fit a washer and dryer in there while still maintaining a nice clean and flowy look…:) Maybe? I was just thinking about that as an alternative.


Dawn – Not sure I explained the laundry situation very well…we plan on re-framing the once laundry closet in the same location with pretty much the same dimensions. HH only tore down the closet because the framing was so badly damaged.


This is crazy! I cannot wait to see it as it comes along!


Before attempting to remove stucco, or any building material it is important to have a sample analyzed to asbestos. There are several labs through out the country that can test samples for asbestos. To collect a sample, just take a few very small chips from the material you wish to remove and send them to a lab. If the samples come back positive I would suggest hiring someone that specializes in stucco removal in PA as asbestos can lead to a variety of health problems and it is something that someone with experience should be dealing with.


[…] wall on the left is a cinder block wall. On the other side of it is the original garage. It’s one of the few walls we didn’t […]


We have the same situation in our home. Brick, Cinder block, metal mesh, and plaster. So hot in the Summer and very cold in the winter. We are probably going to build out the walls, just not sure about the window sills. Huge windows that are the old Storm crank out alum kind.