Sunday, November 12, 2006

Time and money saving techniques...

That failed.
When you’re going through a project like we are, you look for ways to save time and money. We’re not talking about scrimping on structural elements, but little shortcuts to speed up the process and save money. As it turns out, some of our efforts actually cost more and took more time. So, in recounting these, we’ll remember them the second time around. Yeah, right.

Staining the deck
We plan to replace the deck, eventually… It’s part of the five-year plan, certainly not in this early stage. We decided to stain it, but didn’t want to spend the money on the stain we really wanted. So, we purchased an “oops!” five gallon drum of paint and thought we’d tint it. Fat chance, green doesn’t want to be brown no matter how much black and brown tint is added.

So, we spent $5 on the green stain, $5 each on three tubes of tint and ended up buying the good stain for $105 on sale at True Value. So, a newly stained deck for $125. Not bad. Our plan to save ended up costing us $25 additional. But, it sure was fun to play Jackson Pollock for the afternoon.

Michael is convinced that we can use the green on the inside of the shed. Works for me.

Utility Cart
When we first moved in, our first big purchase was a riding lawn mower. We love it. It has a 54” blade. I can tell you that before having so much grass in the backyard, I wouldn’t have considered, or bragged, about a lawn mower blade. It really does make the job faster… and it has a drink holder. Neat.

We wanted to purchase accessories for the mower, but hadn’t determined what we really wanted or needed. In clearing out some of the backyard, Michael found an old utility cart. An accessory we had considered purchasing, but now we could restore this one (we love projects…).

So, he searched for new tires online, after two tries and $40, we had tires that fit. We also put 2 layers of Rustoleum brown paint on it. We already had the paint, so that didn’t really cost us anything. Our cart has seen better days though, and it is a little soft in some places, and you can see through some of the metal. But, we love the utility cart and use it almost every weekend. Recycling at its best.

Of course, we could have purchased a brand new one for $140 ready to go. But then there wouldn’t be a story.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Lost & Found (Part 1?)

I’ve heard that hospitals keep the odd things the doctors pull from bodies. We’ve uncovered some odd things as we worked on the house… Not sure all are worth noting, but here are the top three. I’m still stumped on some. It’s like reading the first part of an article and having to wait until the next month for part two. I guess these mysteries will continue to unfold as we move along in the project. Or, we’ll just make up stories.

Hot and Cold Water Hookups behind the Drywall

There was a soft spot in the wall of our dining room. It felt almost like a drum as you ran your hand over it. Definitely thinner than wall board, but thick enough to provide some resistance. When we realized that we wanted to take down the wall in the room, we went right for the mystery spot in the wall – a little higher than waist high, but not as high as a light switch.

We found water hookups in the dining room a mere 10 feet from the kitchen sink. We really thought we could incorporate this discovery into the design of the room. If you watch any home and garden show – it’s all about the water feature. But we’re covered in that area – a pond and the Bay – who needs more than that? So, there they are. When we rerun the plumbing, they’ll move or come out. But I still have to ask why?

Electric Cords from the Shed to, well, not sure yet...
This past weekend we were cutting down trees in the backyard (a new hobby of ours). We noticed electric cords coming from the ground so we pulled on them – of course. They went into the shed and then back out again on the other side. The one cord came from under the shed and joined up with a hose. The pair then went into the phragmite it’s an invasive plant that looks and acts a lot like bamboo. Michael and I decided to follow it (anything to take a break from real work) into the weeds.

It started off rather easily – we kicked and pushed our way into the phragmite while following the cord and hose on the ground. The plants got thicker as we made our way in and it got harder to get through, but we stayed right on top of the cord and hose. These plants are about 8-12 feet high – it felt like we were explorers in our own backyard. We got about 30 feet into the dense plants and decided this episode was to be continued.

Part of me really wanted to track it down, but the other part of me likes making up the story of where these cords will lead us. I just hope we’re not inadvertently stealing electricity from our neighbors.

The inset in the pictures is a close up of the cord, you can see Michael through the tunnel we created in the phragmite.

Our very own junk yard

As we’ve cleared part of the yard, we’ve found a rusty utility cart, a rusty drive shaft, an even rustier axle … a theme? We’ve pulled out chains and water pumps, rods and filters. We’re not sure what kind of car was parted out behind our house, but we have hopes of putting it back together.

No, not really.

What now?
These odd things make me consider incorporating some mystery in our new construction. Not sure if you’ve ever visited the Winchester Mystery House, but if you have you definitely know what I mean. I’d like to have stairs that lead to nowhere or a secret passageway to the next room. Maybe even a trap door.

The Poison is in the Dose

Whoever said that hadn’t met Michael.

Our yard has a “wooded” area. I think real estate agents would call it that, Michael and I just think it’s a big mess. So we decided to clean it up. Clear some brush, tear down some vines, cut down some trees. You know, basic yard work for lumberjacks.

Well, it seems we found some poison oak. More accurately, Michael seemed to have found some poison something – he’s covered. Sorry about the picture (I did make it small). Eeeeewww.

You’ll see our progress on the yard in a future entry, once the itching stops…

Monday, October 23, 2006

Swab the deck,

and other home maintenance.

We really like the idea of a deck. We just don’t like the deck that came with our house. But, when you’re gutting the inside, you really value any livable space – even with uneven stairs, odd railings and mismatched wood. Given that we’ll need to keep the deck for a couple of years while we make the inside our own, we thought we’d take some steps to maintain it. Really, not a novel thought… but, like so many other things, it never occurred to the former owners.

My family came to town for my cousin’s wedding (congrats Kim and Jay!). Really, the deck and this visit have something in common – just give me a minute.

So my family was in town for the wedding. My mom extended her trip to help us with a project. So many projects and a volunteer – I was beside myself with ideas. Because the weather was nice and because the deck looked so bad, the deck seemed like a good two-day job.

Ha. It took two days just to power wash it. But that’s what my mom and I did while Michael went to work. We worked so hard on it– my mom even power washed her toe – ouch!

Then there was the staining. My mom helped pick the color – mission brown, but she was already safely back in Missouri (bandaged toe and all) by the time we were ready to stain. Even though Michael had thought the deck was a lost cause, even he was excited by how much better it looked clean. Two weeks of after work staining got us to this.

Just in time for winter… Argh!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Smells like Christmas...

…and sounds like power tools.

I know it’s a bit early for Christmas (except for in retail). But, around our house, it smells like Christmas. Michael and I spent the weekend cutting down and trimming evergreen trees. We have a line of trees between our house and our neighbors. They aren’t pretty, but they serve as a natural privacy fence.

Ahh, much better. I guess we all need a trim now and then.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


We had some family visit a couple of weeks ago. We had a great time hosting, and even though the house wasn’t yet up for visitors, we were. I know people must be horrified (perhaps too strong a word… at least stunned, or surprised) when they walk in the house – walls are half down, you can see through from room to room, wires dangle from walls and the ceiling, everything is mismatched. My uncle, though, saw what we saw when we first walked through the house last October – potential.

Seeing the house through his eyes gave us renewed energy for the project that we have ahead of us. In fact, I think it inspired us to be even more ambitious… if that’s possible.

Thanks, Bill!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

If these walls could talk.

Most days Michael and I decide what to do on the house. We have plenty of projects to keep us busy, but the weather plays a part. On a nice day, like today, we wanted to work outside. On rainy days, much better to do work indoors.

But then, there are some days when the house decides. This weekend, our work was dictated by the house. Let me explain:

Thursday night we had wicked storms come through Maryland. There was lots of wind and heavy rain for a quick, but violent, storm. Then the house let us know what we’d do over the weekend by dripping. Between the two additions of the house (between the living room and the dining room), we had a light, but steady drip. We tore out some of the ceiling to be sure the water wouldn’t reach our light fixture (it’s my least favorite light fixture, but…). The little bit that's hanging is what we tore into Thursday night.

So today, Sunday, we took out the ceiling where the two rooms join, and then some more for good measure. It was a mess, but a mess we’ve become accustomed to. There’s nothing like dry wall dust in your eyes, mouth and nose to make you feel like a proud homeowner. Michael said that tearing the wall down was much easier than trying to get the wallpaper off. I guess my work on removing the wallpaper was a bit premature.

I know there was a time that a drip indoors would have really caused concern. I’m sure it would for most people, but Michael and I just figure it’s another opportunity. We really didn’t like the roofline above the room where we had the drip and now we have a reason to explore different options.

Our house keeps asking for lots of big changes… For now, Michael and I are happy to oblige.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Rub a dub dub

Michael and I in a tub.

This was our bathroom. Actually, this was our guest bathroom. We'll both admit that this was the nicest room in the house. But, when you're renovating a house, what's one more bathroom? Plus, we wondered what we would find underneath the pretty exterior. We did find layers of tile, but nothing hair-raising. Unless you count the shoddy plumbing work. But really, it takes a lot to surprise Michael and I anymore.

It seems that the former owners decided to update the bathroom floor before selling. Good idea. I thought the floors looked great – and they did. But the person who put the floors in and reinstalled the toilet didn’t do such a great job. Because the floors were now about a half inch above where they were with the vinyl tile, the contractor/owner/moron needed to install an extension from the toilet to the drain. It’s about a 59-cent piece. Certainly not a budget blower, but essential in the process. Needless to say, the installer saved less than a dollar. Luckily, it was not a high-traffic area and we caught the problem rather early.

At first we thought we’d just install a new subfloor and tiling. Then we decided we should just start from scratch. So, out came the goggles, pry bars and hammers. We were mindful of pipes and electricity and took out the bathroom in a weekend.

Now Michael and I have an on-going debate about installing a bath or a shower. Slowly, he's winning that debate and I think we'll end up with a shower stall. Besides, most guests don't take a bath when they are visiting, right? I even asked my mother to weigh in on the debate. She voted with Michael.

I guess I shouldn't have asked.

What lies beneath

I've heard that a good foundation is the basis for every good relationship.

Our relationship with our house started on rocky (if not soggy) beginnings. But now we’re back in the clear after a bit of work underneath the house. Michael did most of the work. I was a happy and able assistant--I held the flashlight, crawled around measuring, worked with him to find the low and high points of the crawl space--until that fateful day when.... I saw not one, but two snakes. I haven’t been under the house since.

Michael installed the electricity and a sump pump. He took these pictures. He’s invited me back, but I’ve declined. We even had a contractor underneath the house, and he noted how nice the crawl space was – plenty of light, easy to get around. Every man should have a space of his own… and the crawl space is all Michael’s.

Before & after.
Really, there is a difference. It's much more dramatic when you're in there. I'm sure the snakes are much happier with their new environment.
I know I am.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

And the walls came crumblin' down...

We keep a nice house, don't we ?
This was our guest room-- it had pink carpet and pink flowered wallpaper. Michael and I had lots of fun tearing down the walls. We had a couple of layers -- wallpaper, paneling and plastic tile. We figure we gained a couple of inches in the room just taking the layers out.

I really like demolition... of course, I'm mindful of electrical wires and plumbing, but there is something so satisfying about pulling down a wall. If it stays in tact, there's a sense of accomplishment. And, if you have to rip it to shreads to get it out, you still get the sense of accomplishment because you worked really hard to get it out. You can't lose.

The square hole in the wall was the medicine cabinet and you can see through to the bathroom. We thought we'd keep that bathroom in tact, but once you decide to gut a place... it's hard to stop. You'll see that demolition in a future entry.

This is what was before.
It's the exact same corner. You can't see the window in the first because we have a piece of paneling up against the wall. Quite a change. I'm looking forward to the day we can post the after pictures, not just the in between shots.

Michael likes to say I just love to smash stuff up. Yep, I do. But I've seen him enjoy it quite a bit, too. Now, I just hope we're as good as putting it all back together... I guess we'll see. But even as is, I still like it better than the pink. One day we'll have guests in here... For now, we have a really great tent.

Here are some of those progress shots:

After the carpet was out, but walls are still up. The pink on the floor is a primer and sealer. Pretty funny that it was also pink!

Beginning stages... the paneling begins to come down.

I always said I wanted an open floor plan, but this is a bit too much. Michael is in our bedroom and I'm taking the picture from the guest room (through the old closet).

Monday, August 21, 2006

It's a zoo out there.

Each county in Maryland has at least one sighting of a coyote, except for Queen Anne's County.
Well, that's what our neighbor told us. Then we had a coyote in our backyard. I ran for a camera to "shoot" it, and our neighbor came out with a gun -- also to shoot it. I got pictures and he, thankfully, didn't even shoot once.

Then there is the story of the turtle and the hare...
but you've probably heard that before. This turtle came by on a rainy day. The rabbits are around all of the time.

One cold December morning I heard fireworks.
I thought it was pretty peculiar -- who shoots off fireworks in the morning? Michael smiled, it was goose season. They seemed to think our backyard was a safe haven. Again, we got the camera, but this time the neighbor didn't reach for his gun. Lucky for them. I guess we'll have another opportunity to "shoot" next season.

And then there's Harry.
He is by far our favorite visitor. He comes by often for a swim, a bite to eat and to relax. I'm not sure the fish and the frogs that live in the pond are as fond of Harry, but the circle of life is alive and well in our backyard. Although there is more than one heron that stops by, they're all "Harry" to us.

Why I now hate carpet.

This is not a good look for me.
When we first moved in, we knew we wanted to make changes. Changes that would make it our home rather than Bob and Mary's home. The blue exterior carpet had to go, the door in the guest room could be closed to hide the pink carpet, but the carpet inside we thought we'd keep. Give it a good cleaning and it was good to go.

How wrong we were.

In the common areas, we had white carpet. Not my first choice (I'm a fan of red wine and I'm clumsy -- not a good combination for white carpet), but we thought we would take a chance. We rented a steamer and got to work on the carpet, it made a difference for about 8 hours, but the stains came back. We soaked, we purchased special cleansers for pets (the previous owners had dogs), we followed the directions closely, but the stains and even the smell came back each and every time. So, we began to remove it. That's when the protective gear was necessary. There was dust, some interesting smells and so many carpet nails and staples.

Before, during and after.

I've seen so many home improvement shows where the owner of the house is pleasantly suprised to find beautiful hardwood floors underneath the carpet. We found more carpet. Really, another layer of carpet and padding. I still had some hope (although a bit diminished) that under the second layer there would be some great surprise. There wasn't. It was the subfloor. The good news is that we don't have to protect the floors as we tear down the walls. We can drop nails, tools, whatever, and we can't hurt the floor.

So what kind of flooring will we have? Wide oak planks in most of the house, tile in the bathrooms and slate of some sort in the kitchen. We have some throw rugs that we'll use, but I never need to see another carpet tack strip or padding.

Our first home.

We moved in December 2005, which is when we took the picture. This is the front of the house. Although Michael and I don't agree on what the "front" is. This is Michael's "front" of the house:

Of course I see his point. This is why we bought the house.

Since moving in, we've been slowly demolishing the inside of the house... but we'll get to those fun pictures in the coming days, weeks and months (years?).

For now, we'll share a new picture of the side that faces the road... We've cut down all of the trees (while cutting down trees sounds awful, the trees were in just terrible shape and downright ugly), torn out the flower beds including tropical plants that had to be moved inside each winter, removed the fake well and painted the door, shutters and street numbers. We have a lot to do still and we'll have to work on that lovely outdoor blue carpet soon. Plus, we'll probably add some plants back in. I know our neighbors would like that.

I guess I can get used to calling this the back of the house... It's just so unfortunate that this is what people see as they drive by. Blue carpet and empty shrub beds. Sorry, new neighbors.