Sunday, October 25, 2009

Slideshow Addendum


Lindsay reminded me that I had forgotten our favorite before & after. I didn't notice until I had put it on the slideshow -- it's kinda like one of those weight loss commercials where the before image, usually black & white, shows the guy hunched over and smoking a cigarette or coughing, while the after image, in beautiful color, shows the guy frolicking in a field of green. Well, maybe not quite so dramatic, but notice the tools and dust vs. strawberries and platters. At least I thought it was funny.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Before & After "Slideshow"

We had our housewarming party on Sunday. I made a before and after slideshow for the party, but I'm a little late posting it. I decided to abbreviate it somewhat -- it was much longer!

Anyway, here's a before and after of the front of our house. Lindsay did all the landscaping and design -- I was just around for hauling bags. Also, she built almost all of the two-tier retaining wall -- it was going to be three-tiers, but Walmart stopped stocking our bricks, as they are a seasonal item. It's hard to see the far end of the wall, but it is five bricks high over there. (There's a whole story about the drainage over there -- basically, there was none, so I installed a new elbow and french drain before we got started. I'll spare you the details, but feel free to ask if you're interested.) There are some hidden bulbs planted too -- it should be really pretty in the spring!

My major project before the party was to finish the kitchen floors and cabinets. The whole process was: 1) Pull up the two layers of linoleum 2) Remove all the nails and staples from the floor 3) Use adhesive remover to get rid of the adhesive 4) Sand the floors with 40, 80, 120, and 220 grit paper 5) Apply wood stain (2 coats) 6) Apply polyurethane (3 coats). It was a lot of work, but I think it turned out pretty nice, plus it was cheap. Same deal with the cabinets -- we pulled them down, cleaned them with mineral spirits, lightly sanded, primed, and painted (Behr Premium Plus "Frost", if you're wondering). We also got new hardware, which I think looks really nice. We have a few more project ideas for the kitchen -- we are going to add more cabinets, a pantry, and an island. We're also planning to change the countertops -- something stone and dark. Anyway, here are some before and afters:

Finally, the story with Nibs. After she was back to health and being hyper in our house, we decided to drop her off at a wildlife rehab center. When she was there, she learned how to be a squirrel -- make a nest, forage for food, etc. When she passed rehab, she got to come home! She's living in a tree in our backyard now. Lindsay showers our backyard with corn regularly, so we get to see Nibs every once in a while. I won't tell you how long Lindsay staked out Nibs' tree to get the after shot :P

Sunday, October 4, 2009

This weekend

So the lull is over -- we've been doing more work on the house for the last few days. In particular, we've been working on the kitchen floor and the front yard. Without further ado...

There were a lot of old floors in the kitchen. #1 and #2 were the linoleum floors (most recent). (The black stuff on the floor is the adhesive -- I used Adhesive Remover (duh) to get it off the floor.) #3 is, in fact, a carpet threshold strip. Yes, there was carpet throughout the house, including the kitchen (eww) at some point. No carpet when we moved in, though. #4 is the new threshold for linoleum that was just screwed in over the carpet threshold -- pretty awesome. #5 is the screws, nails, and staples that I took out of the floor. Better pic coming up:

This is about 1 hours worth of removal. I ended up doing about 3 hours worth of removal all together. As such, I needed to get some wood filler to fill all those holes:

This picture was taken after I had sanded once with a 40 grit paper, and filled in some of the holes. I hope to be finished sanding and filling in a couple days. After that, I'll stain it a nice dark color, and slap on some polyurethane.

Next up -- the front yard. Lindsay has been chomping at the bit to put some landscaping in our front yard. The first goal was to remove the grass for about 5 feet in front of the house, and to remove some ugly bush/weeds we had growing. The sucker in the next picture was so heavy that the yard service wouldn't pick it up! (For the record, I couldn't either. I stole a trick from TV to get it out of the ground. I dug out all around it, sat down next to it, put my feet on the side of the house, and leg pressed it right out of the hole!) By the way, check out the spigot we uncovered!

Here's a teaser. We decided to build up a retaining wall (or three) and make a tiered front yard. It has turned out very nice -- some of the plantings are already in. Here's what it looked like after grass removal, before wall building. More when it is done!

Finally, in case you are following along, I didn't forget about the toilet. I ended up having to replace the hose from the wall to the toilet -- it was some old plastic part that had sprung a leak. I replaced it with a nice steel braided hose -- I feel like I need a Tim Taylor laugh here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A lull

Sorry for the lack of activity around the house lately. Just thought I'd pop in to fill you in on what's going on, and what's taking up my time:

1) My best friend got married last weekend. I was partying out of town for awhile. No house work - woo!
2) My computer's hard drive died when I was installing Snow Leopard. It's a long story. My data is fine (horray), but I need to reinstall everything. (Transferring Information: 2 hours and 13 minutes remaining...)
3) The toilet tank started leaking.

Projects in various stages of completion:
1) The kitchen floor is about 85% stripped. I plan to finish the stripping and sanding by/on Saturday.
2) The patio has the cracks sealed. I am debating about whether to lay down a top layer of concrete and stain it, or just jackhammer the whole thing and start over (paver stones?)
3) The front lawn is missing some grass. (I started ripping out grass near the house to make way for flower beds today.)
4) The toilet has a tupperware container underneath it. I thought I fixed the problem with my trusty silicone tape, but it turns out it is still leaking (slowly). I need to go get a new gasket.
5) The backyard is mostly cleared. A few stumps to get rid of still. No fence yet. (The big stump on the side of the backyard laughed at my axe. Need to get some stump killer or a stump grinder.)

I'll post pictures when something is done. Check back in a year few days.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Photo Proof

My wife put up some pictures, including some semi-finished interior decorating stuff. I decided not to do a post on how to put up blinds, etc., so this will suffice:


No Joke. I was at Sonic, and this baby squirrel runs past my table while I'm waiting for the food to come out. She runs up to this table of 2 girls and 1 guy, and sits on the guy's foot. He tries to shake it off, but it won't get off, so he takes his sandal off. The squirrel just sits on the sandal, until he grabs sandal out from under it. They all get up and leave (after giving the squirrel a piece of bread), but the squirrel just sits there and looks sad/cold/lonely. I called Lin to come bring a box. She came and did her furry-animal-whisperer thing with it, and we ended up taking it home.

By our best estimations, she's about 6-8 weeks old. We're pretty sure she's a girl. At first, we had her in our kiddie pool with a laundry basket over her when we had to go out. After about 24 hours with her, I went and got a proper cage from Craigslist. We filled it with some branches for her to climb on. We were afraid she wasn't going to make it (she was very cold and hungry), but Lindsay has nursed her back to health. She's perked up a lot in the last 24 hours.

She's also surprisingly domesticated. She will sit in your hand (or on your head) to eat. She likes to climb and explore. Autumn (the dog) and Nibs (the squirrel) seem to get along pretty well. We're not sure what we're going to do with her when she gets older. Squirrels make pretty good pets (or so we've been told), but we might end up releasing her when she's old enough to fend for herself. We shall see. VIDEOS:



Thursday, August 27, 2009

Closet Disaster?

Our closet originally had two shelves and a single closet rod in it. Since we don't use the shelves to their capacity anyway, it seemed like a good idea to remove one of the shelves and add a second closet rod. I went to the store and bought this closet tension rod. You can see the results above, after Lindsay "was just trying to hang up a skirt." Clearly we have a problem -- a closet rod with skirtaphobia.

Since I already had a grudge against these stupid closet rods, I had kept the receipts and packaging in the event I would gleefully be able to return them to the store (which I did). With the proceeds from that transaction firmly in hand, I trudged to the next store to get this closet rod. I also had to pick up some nails, some Liquid Nails Interior, and some spray paint.

Since these closet rods mount to a wooden lip, I had to construct a wooden lip. Not too terribly hard -- I picked up some rough cut wood, cut four 18" sections, and sanded it smooth. Have I mentioned how much I love having a power sander? Love it. By the way, I would definitely recommend my Porter Cable ROS Power Sander if you are in the market. I decided to go with one that had solid reviews, and I do not regret it.

Anyway, after sanding, I spray painted those suckers white to match the white. 3 coats did the trick.

Next, I put both boards on the wall and moved the rod so it was level. Then I positioned the boards so they were level on the wall. After applying Liquid Nails to the back of the boards, I put them on the wall. Then I proceeded to nail them in.

Horray, finished! And with much more storage. You can see who gets the bottom rod :P

Monday, August 24, 2009

Electric Dryers Suck

I had a guy come out to give me an estimate for a fence in the backyard. He hasn't gotten back to me yet, but if he gives me a reasonable offer I think I'll take it. Either way, he is a former engineer turned entrepreneur. We "talked engineer" for awhile when he was surveying the backyard. We were lamenting that the problem with engineers is that we are overqualified and underexperienced for every construction job. I'm not even a "real" engineer (biomedical engineering!), but I've still taken classes on circuits [electricity, wiring, design], thermodynamics [vents, ducts, flow], materials [stone, metal, ceramics, etc.], and industrial design. Unfortunately, I've never actually done any of that stuff -- like pouring concrete, for example. But I know the principles, and so that is enough. Right?

I have put the patio on hold for a bit. Lindsay was doing the laundry the other day, and noted that the clothes weren't as dry as she would have liked. We had planned to replace the old gas dryer with our own electric dryer sooner or later, so now seemed like a good time. (As it turned out, the old gas dryer is working fine -- it just needed the lint traps and vents cleaned out.)

However, there was no 220V electrical outlet near the dryer. Luckily, I am an engineer :P Having watched my experienced-and-handy father-in-law install the 220V outlet for our new electric range, I felt fairly confident that I could splice a new outlet into that line. Doing what I do best, I started by faithfully googling "How to install dryer outlet" and commenced reading for awhile.

I started my journey over the weekend by purchasing all the parts I would need -- a junction box for the splice, 8 feet of wire to make the connection, a new outlet, and some wing nuts. Although the dryer was already set up with a 3 wire dryer cord, I decided to upgrade it to the new 4 wire dryer cord. I figure this will be more appealing to future home buyers. Here's what my tools and parts looked like before I started.

Since the wire from the range is coming through the floor in the kitchen into the basement, I had the brilliant idea of mounting the junction box on the ceiling in the basement, so the wire would come into the box from the back. Supply would come from the east, and the new outlet would go out the west. Beautiful, and elegant. From the outside, it will just look like a pass through!

Lindsay doesn't like when I work on electricity when she's not home, so I waited until she got home from work on Sunday to start -- about 9pm. First, I tripped the breaker, made sure the power was off, and cut the supply wire to the kitchen range with my garden shears. (I had to use 6-3 wire, because the circuit breaker is 60 AMP. Yes, you read that correctly -- AWG 6 gauge stranded wire. It is a real pain to work with.) With a little help from Lindsay, I screwed the junction box into the ceiling -- it fit into the hole like a glove! See the wires poking in from the back?

I proceeded to put the supply wire and the dryer wire into the box, and found out that I had a lot of big cables in a little box. On top of that, the cable coming from the kitchen was way too short. I messed around with the wires until about 2AM, trying to get it to work. It just wouldn't go, my hands were full of cuts, my wing nuts sucked, and I was fairly demoralized. What to do? Of course, I went to the internet and read up. I went to bed with a lot of good ideas.

On Monday, I put my plan into action. First, I replaced the cable coming from the range with a longer one that I had left over from when we first installed that line.

Next, I went to the store and bought the three items that were key to my success. First, I got wire strippers. Although you can do electrical work without them, I would find out that they are a HUGE boon. Second, I got a junction box extender. I didn't know they made them until I did my late night googling on Monday. Turns out that junction boxing is a science, not an art. My junction box was too small for the size and amount of wires I was putting into it -- it just wouldn't fit. A junction box extender is just a junction box without a back. You can screw it right on top of your old box to make it twice as big! Lastly, I got some appropriately sized wing nuts that were not filled with insulation.

Shortly thereafter, I was able to clean up the now-larger box, and make all the appropriate connections. Horray!

Next, I had to install the outlet on the concrete foundation wall. I used TAPCON screws along with the bit they provide. Although they recommend using a hammer drill, I found that a normal drill can be used as long as you have a bit of patience. I ended up having to drill an extra hole, because I'm a dummy. I also put some Liquid Nails behind the box (belt and suspenders!), so that outlet isn't going anywhere soon.

As I said in my previous post, having the right tools is really the key to any job. In this case, having wire strippers and a good set of needle nose pliers was very helpful. Since the wire is so big and unwieldy, doing anything "by hand" is impossible. Anyway, here are all the tools I ended up using (besides the garden shears). In case you are wondering, the dryer passed its first test this evening with flying colors.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

To the Patio...and Beyond!

The last line of your home loan paperwork should say "I affirm the tube as the ultimate vehicle for home improvement products." It seems EVERYTHING comes in a tube -- a cartridge for the real fun stuff.

Anyway, I had a semi-productive morning -- some yard work, lawn mowing, etc. My wife also took me to see puppies for adoption -- as luck would have it, the one she really wanted to see wasn't here. Huzzah!

I discovered this awesome product the other day at Ace Hardware -- Pour-N-Restore. Basically, you pour it on a stain, such as oil, tar, etc., and wait for it to dry. It sucks up all the stain, and then you sweep it away. It pretty much works just like the directions. It works better on stains than deposits, and it continues to work for awhile after you sweep it away. Recommended.

Here's a time lapse of one part of the patio. You might be able to tell where I put it down. Obviously, an unlimited supply (relative to the size of the stain) is best, but it costs $13 a bottle.

After 1st treatment:

After 2nd treatment:

One of my main frustrations from home improvement projects comes from trying to do something without the proper tool. Instead of going to get it, I'll just try to finish the job with whatever I got laying around. Typically this results in stains, rips, and broken finger nails. Today, I got started right, by laying out the appropriate tools for filling in the patio cracks with concrete. I got those three masonry tools on the left at a sweet estate sale (where I also found this gem).

I am using a watering can to put sand in the cracks between the slabs, so I don't have to fill as much. And yes, even the sand comes in a tube. No, I am not kidding.

I got a lot of work done on the patio (approximately 3/4 finished), but I had to run to the store to get more Quikrete and I ended up taking a break to organize the basement. My wife and I started on it the other day, but I was finally able to clear out enough space between the extra drywall and the Christmas tree for this:

My drumset has made a long-awaited revival. Although the music corner isn't really set up yet (still got a trumpet, two guitars, and a keyboard to put up), it's great to have my drums out of storage finally. Also, I got the 6'x9' carpet for $22 -- I've played on stages smaller than that! Being an "adult" is pretty fun -- sometimes, you get to buy what you really want and put it where you really want.

By the way, I've been busy with some other stuff too. I re-fixed the drain -- apparently moving the drain up on the tub misfit the pipe, and it leaked a bit. I had to take the drain off, put some sealant on the joint, and screw it back together. I also repaired some of the grout in the shower and kitchen. I only did the parts that really needed it, as we might be removing the tile in the near future.

Sorry for such a long update. Lindsay and I have been goofing off a lot lately because it was our anniversary on Tuesday, I passed my qualifying exam on Wednesday, and she had four days off from work. As of 4:45 this afternoon, at least one of us is back to the grind. Lame!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Patio Part 1

The patio is four square concrete slabs. They had been caulked together with a variety of substances. Looks like round 1 was tar. Round 2 was that black stuff they use to repair driveways. Round 3 was a poly-urethane-type deal. All together, it looked pretty bad.

I went to Ace Hardware and bought "De-Solv-It Contractors' Solvent" to take up the tar. Its one of those orange-smelling cleaners that is "100% Guaranteed" to work on a variety of substances, including but not limited to tar. It actually works really well. Unfortunately, I have a metric ton of tar in stupid places on the patio. I got a lot of it off, but there is still some on there. My solution is to get enough tar off so its level, then cover it with a skim layer of the Quikrete stuff I bought. More on that in Part 2 -- coming soon!

In another episode of "righting other people's wrongs", I am using PL Polyurethane Concrete Crack & Masonry Sealant to fix the side stairs. Basically, the concrete stairs were pre-poured somewhere else, then plopped down next to the house when it was built. Unfortunately, they have separated, and I'd rather not have water sitting right next to my foundation. It is supposed to dry and look like concrete. I'll post part 2 of this as well.