Brownstone Restoration – All Done

After two coats of black semi-gloss paint on the stoop railing and the gate, the facade restoration project is finally complete. What was supposed to be a 4 month project ended up taking 11 months to finish. The construction shutdown due to Covid started when we were about a month in to the renovation. It was pretty inconvenient living behind scaffolding and plastic sheathing while we were all sheltering at home, but with time, the stress and pain from the renovation will hopefully fade away.

Brownstone Restoration – Iron Work

The fence components were welded together in the shop and brought to the site as two large panels.

We no longer had the original posts but we were able to find stock posts that resembled the original posts.

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The ironworkers restored the original gate and extended the bottom so that the height of the gate would align with the height of the new fence panels.

Below are photos of the newly installed iron fence and gate.

The brownstone finish coat was applied to the retaining wall after the new fence was installed.

The original security bars were repainted and reinstalled at the garden windows. The bottom of the vertical bars were originally embedded directly into the brownstone but the ironworkers welded a horizontal bar at the base so that there would only be 2 anchor points to the brownstone.

Brownstone Restoration – Iron Fence

The brownstone retaining wall beneath the iron fence was cracked and uneven so the masons repaired it as well. I never liked the existing iron fence and wanted to replace it with something that looked more like the original fence that most of my neighbors have. I still had the original gate but was missing the original posts and fence panels.

The image below is of my neighbor’s original fence. I hoped to find this exact design in a salvage yard but didn’t have much luck. The ironworkers did find a matching panel, but it was only panel about 2′ wide. It would have been extremely expensive to custom cast new panels to match the originals, so I decided to find stock decorative iron fence panels that would have the same general look and feel. Since my house is not in a Landmarked district, I was able to choose any fence design I wanted.

Below are some stock cast iron fence panel designs that I considered.

I wanted to mock up a few panels on site before the ironworkers welded everything together. They brought over 4 panels so that I could see the repeat of the pattern. Although this panel design does not match the original fence design, I thought it looked pretty good.

After the metalworkers removed the iron fence, the masons came back to chip off the brownstone retaining wall and apply a new scratch coat. The brownstone finish coat will be applied after the new iron fence is installed.

Brownstone Restoration – New Doors

Although the new double doors were installed a few weeks ago, it took up until now to finish all the details associated with the doors.

Below are some installation photos.

We replaced the sconces and doorbell in the same locations, so we didn’t change out the electrical j-boxes. The cavity behind the door jamb got filled with insulation.

It was difficult to get the door jamb into place and in the process, a chunk of the brownstone at the header chipped off. The masons will come back later to repair the damage. Previously, we had discussed whether the new doors and jambs should be installed before or after the brownstone finish coat. If we had installed the doors first, that may have prevented the brownstone finish coat from getting damaged. However, the acid power wash on the finish coat might have damaged the doors.

Each door is 2′-0″ x 9′-4″ x 2 1/2″ and very, very heavy.

After the doors were installed, there was a noticeable gap between the new door jamb and the edge of the brownstone surface. While the doors were square, the opening was not, which is not a surprise since the house is over 100 years old. We decided that it made more sense to fill the gap with wood trim rather than with brownstone.

The unlaquered brass hardware is very shiny now, but will naturally develop a warm patina over time. There are some chemical products that can help speed up the tarnishing process which I might consider using. At first, I didn’t want to install kick plates because the wood doors look so nice without them, but in the end, functionality won out and I installed kick plates.

For house numbers, I just ordered a decal from Etsy. It’s obviously not as nice as painted gold leaf house numbers, but from far away, you can’t really tell that it’s just a decal and looks pretty good.

The original white marble door saddle was cracked and very dirty, so we replaced it with a new honed Absolute Black granite saddle. The saddle was just set yesterday, so the installers will come back later to drill in a hole for the door floor bolt.

Brownstone Restoration – Scaffolding is Down

After living behind scaffolding for 8 months, the scaffolding was dismantled this week. We can finally see sunlight into the front rooms of the house.

Next up are door installation and ironwork.

Brownstone Restoration – Cornice Painting

The cornice was previously painted brown but we painted it black to match our neighbors’ cornices. Now that the cornice painting is done, the scaffolding can be removed.

Brownstone Restoration – Acid Wash

After the application of the finish coat was completed, we had to wait a minimum of 9 days for the surface to dry. Once the finish coat was fully dried, the facade was power washed with a diluted acid solution. The purpose of the power wash was to remove the thin outer layer of the pigmented cement in order to reveal the aggregate and give the surface more depth and texture. Without the power wash, the brownstone finish would have had a flat, painted look. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but after the power wash, the surface gained a sparkliness that made it look more like natural stone.

The window installers will also come back to calk around the windows to seal up the gap between the window frame and the brownstone finish coat.

Brownstone Restoration – Finish Coat

After a few weeks of waiting, the masons came back last week to work on the finish coat. Contractors typically provide a few color samples for you to review, but I knew what color I wanted and didn’t get a sample. Since my contractor had restored a few brownstones on my block, I selected a color based on reviewing my neighbors’ finished projects. It was easier to select a color when it’s on a whole facade rather than on a small sample patch. 

Brownstone Restoration – New Windows

The new Marvin windows were installed on the 2nd floor and the garden level last week. Timing and coordination was critical since the windows had to be installed within a specific time frame which is after the scratch coat is completed and before the finish coat is applied. We were lucky that the window order was placed early enough so that the fabrication was not affected by the pandemic. These windows typically have a lead time of approximately 8 weeks. The windows had already been delivered to the window dealer in Brooklyn prior to the shutdown. A team of 4 installed the 5 new windows in just one day.

Below are a few before and after photos of the master bedroom windows.

Below is a photo of the exterior side of an upper sash. The exterior is clad in aluminum which is more durable than painted wood. The interior of the window is painted wood. I selected a stock black color for the exterior cladding, but Marvin offers some other color options as well. For the interior, I selected a stock factory painted white, but you can order the windows to be factory primed and then site painted match your exact trim color.

And here is the inside view of the sash.

Traditionally, the divided lites in a window sash would be comprised of smaller individual panes of glass held together by mullions. For energy efficiency, these windows have simulated divided lites that replicate the look of real divided lites. Simulated divided lite bars are adhered to the exterior on both sides of the double pane glass. Spacer bars are inserted on the inside in between the glass panes to make the faux mullions look solid.

The windows at the garden level are plain double hung windows and don’t have divided lites. The iron security bars were cut off so that the windows could be installed from the outside. The bars will be reinstalled later. Since the windows were installed from the outside, the pocket shutters on the inside were not damaged.

Spray foam insulation was added around the perimeter of the windows.

Brownstone Restoration – Scratchcoat complete

The masons finished applying the scratch coat earlier this week and the facade will be left alone to cure for about 4 weeks. During this down time, the new windows will be installed and the metal work can begin. Someone came by to scrape off the old paint on the cornice as well.

Below are photos of what the facade and stoop look like right now.

The metal security bars at the garden windows (below) were cut off in preparation for the window installation.

Brownstone Restoration – Woodshop Visit

I visited the shop today to check on the status of the doors. The carpenters were able to work some during the the pause, so there was a lot of progress.

Custom wood doors
custom wood entry doors

Besides the double doors, the door jamb and transom will be replaced as well. I considered keeping the existing jamb and transom, but they were not in great shape and covered in layers and layers of paint.

I originally intended to paint the doors black, but decided to stain them instead. I figured I could always paint the doors in the future if I change my mind, but that it would be harder to strip the paint to stain the wood. Below are the stain colors I was considering (I decided to go with the one circled in red).

Brownstone Restoration – Work Resumes

After almost 3 months of pause due to Covid-19 restrictions, the masons came back to work on June 8th. With Phase 1 reopening, non-essential construction was finally allowed to resume in New York City. We had been living behind scaffolding and plastic sheets covering the windows this whole time, so we were very happy to have the work start up again.

Prior to the work stoppage, the masons had applied the scratch coat to the top floor and were halfway done with the parlor level. On Monday, the they picked up where they left off in March and are now working on the parlor level and basement level scratch coat.

The masons estimate that they have about 2 and a half weeks worth of work left on the scratch coat. After that, they will leave for about one month while the scratch coat cures.

Brownstone Restoration – Door Update

The woodworker sent me some progress photos of the doors and jambs at his shop. Typically, the lead time could be up to 8 to 10 weeks for custom doors, but the woodworker happened to have an opening in his schedule when I called. He was still in the shop drawing review process for another big job so he had guys available to work on the job right away. I’m hoping that the doors will be ready 6 weeks after I signed him on. I have to coordinate with the masons to see when the scratch coat will done so that these doors can be installed.

Brownstone Restoration – Scratch Coat

In the last week, the masons have started to apply the scratch coat. After they chipped off about 1 1/2″ of the damaged brownstone, they built the surface back up by applying layers of the scratch coat. Before they applied the scratch coat, they first applied a slurry coat as bonding agent. The scratch coat is composed of portland cement, lime, sand and water that was mixed on site. In order for the scratch coat to harden properly, it needs to cure for at least 21 days with temperatures above 40°. The masons started applying the scratch coat from the top down. Each scratch layer is scored for better adhesion.

Brownstone Restoration – More Demolition

The dumpster arrived today. This is messy work, so I’m grateful that my contractor is doing his best to clean up the work site at the end of each day.

During demolition, the outer layers of the damaged brownstone is removed with jackhammers until they reach the inner layers of undamaged stone.

Brownstone Facade Restoration - demo

Brownstone Restoration – Demo Starts

The demolition started today.  There are 3 masons assigned to the job and they will be making a lot of noise for the next few days.  I have a hose bibb and an outlet at the front of the house, which is great because I won’t have to string a power cord out the window.  The contractor wanted a second outlet though since the jack hammers take up a lot of power.  We strung a power cord through the cellar hatch to get to a second outlet.

Brownstone Restoration – Scaffolding is up

The scaffolding was installed today.  The contractor will return later to add more protection at the sides of the netting and cover the windows and doors with plastic.