Category Archives: House

Good fences make good neighbors!

And awesome fences are…well, what I built.  You probably remember that we got a dog a few months ago.  I honestly had no idea what sort of a pain dogs were, but alas, I have Ginny and she’s a good dog.  She loves being outside so I have no problem letting her stay outside during the day while we are at work.  The problem is that she has worn all the grass from her kennel and her outhouse is far too close to my house.

Like a good dog owner, I want to protect Ginny from neighborhood dogs as well as gypsies, tramps and thieves…and Cher.

Oh yeah, lets’ take a moment to listen to Cher when she still looked somewhat human:

Anyhow, our house didn’t have a fenced in area so my cheap-skate brain kicked in and I started digging fence post holes.  Actually, we first had to cut down a mess of a tree that was on the one corner of the property where the fence was to go.  The tree had grown up pretty badly into the power, phone and cable lines that run on the edge of our property.

I marked the lines
Camo AND a chainsaw!

Again, being cheap, I couldn’t see paying someone hundreds of dollars when I could crawl up on a conductive aluminum ladder near the power lines to cut the junk down.  Slowly but surely, I was able to pick away at the branches until I could safely drop the tree.  Once done, I commenced digging and have almost completed the fortress as Isaac likes to call it.

The tree used to be at that far corner

(we did chainlink on one side so Ginny would be able to see out)

So the fence will be great for keeping Ginny safe, but it also hides the mess that my neighbors leave about in their yard.  They collect animals and stuff and just seem to be unable to haul all their junk to the curb on trash day.  I won’t rant too long (but boy I could).

Our view (sometimes) of the neighbor's yard...before the fence. Yes, it is a chewed up couch cushion.

Let’s just say that the thousand bucks we spent on this fence has saved us many thousands in mental health bills.  Emily has found her zen place behind our new walls!

It was raining…in my house

I love our old house and our neighborhood.  We have lots of old and large trees on our property and the properties around us.  We also have gutters on our house.  Leaves and debris…meet gutters…gutters – debris.

Mine was worse than this...and it was raining

You see, in the spring-time, the black locusts make thousands of little leaves and flowers that fall off, oh…um…about this time of year.  They are small enough that they are not stopped by gutter guards so they accumulate in the gutters.  I clean them every year but if my timing is not right, they build up and absorb just the right amount of water from light rains to form a great organic gutter-dam when the heavy rains come.

Anyhow, the dam did its dam thing last night and backed up the gutter right above one of the window wells to a basement window.  We noticed water coming in the house and I looked up and saw water in the window.  It was like my own little aquarium!  I ran outside in the pouring rain (and I mean pouring) to clean out all of the gutters.  I really hate climbing a ladder in the rain but I was able to break all of the dams on all of the gutters which washed all of the dam junk out into the yard.

I had to go back and dip the water from the window well as best I could.  I guess I could have waited until it fully drained into the house but that didn’t seem like a good option.  By the time I was all done, I was soaked through to the bone…and then it stopped raining.

I am going to buy a new blade for my chainsaw today…

Closet light…a dream come true

Our house is pretty typical of old houses.  Ours was built in 1939 and has tons of character.  We have three full baths which I suppose is strange for a house of that era.  We a small kitchen which also seems odd.  Anyhow, what seems right in line with my impression of older houses is the fact that the master bedroom closet is small.  I suppose that folks in 1939 had a few outfits, suits, etc and that was pretty much it.  A small closet would have suited them fine.

The most pitiful closet of all...lightless

We do not have excessive closet needs but we do have some closet needs.  Emily uses the closet in the master bedroom (which is smaller than the closet I had as a kid) and I use the one (of the same size as Emily’s) in the spare bedroom next door.  I guess to differentiate the master closet as special, the original builders included a pull-chain light in her closet.  My closet, however, being only a guest closet, was not likewise equipped.

Emily's closet...once a showcase for closet lighting

We’ve been doing all sorts of projects on the house and this weekend, as part of another bigger project, I decided it was time to remedy my pitiful light-less closet.  You see, a happy closet is one that has a light and a switch…not just a pull chain.  I am proud to say that I have the happiest closet in the house.  Emily’s closet, though once a happy closet, is now feeling switch envy.  I suppose it won’t be far behind mine as its owner won’t tolerate the closet’s whining for long.

What I used to see in my closet
My closet now...can you feel the joy?

Anyhow, for a short time at least, I have the happiest closet in our old house and another of my dreams is fulfilled!

We’re breaking up

Sometimes in life, you try and try to make something work but it just doesn’t.  Sometimes you find things that just aren’t worth pushing.  Sometimes you just have to end it.  We’ve gone to great lengths to fix things or mess with them to make it all work differently, but, at our wits end, we see no other course but to break up…the concrete of course.

I got some more stuff last night to try to fix the low spots.  One thing I got was a new level that would be large enough to span enough distance but no so large that I couldn’t put it crossways in the bathroom (so I got a 2 foot long level).  As I laid it all sorts of ways across the floor, I really started to see just how badly screwed up the concrete was.  No small patch was going to fix this issue.  The only solution in its current state would be to add another level of self-leveling concrete and hope it worked better.  Um…heck no.

Breaking up is hard to do...

Being a stubborn SOB (no offense Mom), I decided that there was no way this floor was going to beat me.  Luckily I have just the tool to remedy the situation.  Several months ago (years if you ask Emily), I started chipping concrete/plaster off of the walls of our office.  For that job, I bought a handful of new cold chisels.  They paid off once again.

The concrete mixer...isn't it cool?

I spent a good bit of time (and yes, more cussing) breaking up the screwed up concrete so I can go about this mess in an entirely different way.  The floor wasn’t too bad to start.  Once I get this concrete removed, I am going to manually level the few spots that aren’t even with regular portland cement or some other floor patch (not sure which yet) and move on.  Call this a $50 education for me I guess.  Education is always money well spent, right?

Well, I hope you can use my experience before you are faced with the same situation…breakups really really suck!

Neil has some thoughts on it too:

Let me level with you

I have been working on our house for…well, for as long as we’ve owned it. It’s a bit of a money-pit fixer-upper and I have enjoyed doing most of the work.  The one thing that makes it all interesting though, is that it is neither square nor level…and not even close.

We have three bathrooms (thank goodness!) and it seems like one is always torn up for one reason or another.  Anyhow, I have been working on the one in the lowest level and am ready to lay tile.  In preparation, I checked the existing floor for low spots, high spots, spotted newts, see spot run, and giant red spots.  Unfortunately, I had several of these.  One can lay tile on a goofed up floor, but the goofs either break tiles or look like someone who knows nothing about laying tile laid the tile.

Not wanting to look like an amateur, I knew I had to fix unevenness of the floor.  I have never used self-leveling concrete before (I AM and amateur, I just don’t want to LOOK like an amateur), but I knew it was the solution for all of my floor-spot-related woes.  The idea is that one pours a somewhat thin layer of special concrete and then watch in amazement as the concrete covers the floor and dries to a smooth, level surface.  Sounds easy, right?

The blue primer drying

Well, mostly it is.  Let me back up…first I had to paint a primer over the bare floor so that the floor would look more blue.  I am not certain that it really did anything else, but I gotta tell you, it did a great job of making my floor more blue…so, it was a huge success!  The blue primer finally dried (Emily watched as I napped…she wasn’t about to let me sleep a minute longer than necessary…she wants this project done!) and I stumbled downstairs to mix the concrete.

Self-leveling concrete...still wet and almost smooth

Back when we first got the house, we bought a huge stirrer that you use with your drill.  It’s built to mix in a 5 gallon bucket.  We tried omelets a few times but it never seemed to taste right out of the bucket so we use it only for mixing paint and concrete now.  Normally, concrete is mixed in a bathtub or a wheelbarrow or something like that with a hoe and child labor.  The drill-mixer is not usually used for concrete, but the directions called for it specifically (good thing I pre-bought that tool!)  So I mixed a 50-lb bag of the stuff following th directions and then I spread it over the floor.  I had to move it around with a large float I made from old wood scraps.  That seemed pretty reasonable.  I didn’t expect to pour a bunch of concrete out and have it magically float evenly over the entire floor.

Dried concrete...almost level

The next part bugs me a little though.  I smoothed the concrete over the floor and had it pretty smooth.  To me, “self-leveling” meant that the stuff would flow evenly across the surface and sort of absorb imperfections in the floor…the low spots and tiny imperfections and such.  At first, it did appear that it was going to behave.  As time went on, however, it became clear that it wasn’t going to work quite like that.

The tile laid out...just begging to be installed...

I cussed it thoroughly and the floor mostly leveled as it hardened (and it hardened quickly), but it is by no means, perfect.  So, in the next day or so, I am headed back to the home improvement store to get some more self-leveling concrete to patch the few screwed up spots.  Part of my problem may be that I got rapid set concrete (not on purpose) rather than extended set…I won’t make that mistake again.

So let me warn you very clearly…if you ever use self-leveling concrete, be sure you have it pretty smooth/level as soon as you can…I’d hate for you to have to cuss your floor like I did!

White as snow…and not just outside!

Like lots of folks in the East, we got a bunch of snow last weekend.  Actually, compared to what many folks got, our foot of snow hardly compares.  Still, there are folks around here who are without power and may be until after Christmas.  I guess when I think of it, we are pretty lucky in regard to this storm.  Since we had nothing important to do and because we still have heat, I guess we all sort of enjoyed the snow.  It surely put me in the Christmas mood (even though it is supposed to be rainy and in the 50s for Christmas) and gave us all a chance to go outside and try to break bones…I mean sled-ride.  We built a gender-neutral snow-person, complete with a carrot nose (until the squirrels heard the news), and made many snow angels.

(check out the mistle toe!)

I mentioned awhile back (many months I guess…holy cow!) that we’ve been doing some pretty extreme work inside of our house.  Stay with me here…I promise it is related.  We’ve hemmed and hawed, we’ve cussed and dodged and pondered and tried to do just about everything we could to make this project take as long as possible.  Of course, by “we”, I mean “I”, not that there was any doubt.  But now, as weather has turned from wonderful and sunny and nice to Winter, I’ve run out of excuses and had to buckle down and make some sort of progress on the house.'s white!'s white!

We water-proofed the walls on the outside as part of the foundation work we had done this summer.  I added additional water-proofing inside as an insurance policy and so I can satisfy my desire for over-kill.  We added foam-board insulation and studded out new walls from the uninsulated masonry walls.  From there, it was easy to add proper insulation and make the rooms usable.

Well, it's not white but it's new!

So, we’ve been mudding and sanding and mudding and sanding until our house is much like a dessert town after a sand-storm. There is grit and dust everywhere and for some reason, the cat’s fur and kids sock feet haven’t been able to keep up with the dust that has been generated.  That’s all until last night.  Last night, you see, Emily painted the drywall…there will be no more sanding in that room.  The walls are snow white with primer and absolutely look as pretty as I do in my beard…well, actually, a lot better than that…but you get my point!

Hot and bothered…or frigid?

Shortly after we received our first gas bill after moving into our house in WV, we started on the path towards reducing our energy usage.  The house was built in 1939 which is apparently before anyone invented insulation as our house had absolutely none.  I have been tearing things apart and installing new insulation in every nook and cranny.  We have replaced and sealed most of the windows and all of the little entries into the house, we replaced the ancient furnace with a new, high-efficiency one and we have installed CFLs everywhere.  It has made a significant difference in our energy bills so has been well worth the effort.

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The family room, office and lower bathroom are the worst as far as cold goes.  The walls are solid masonry…outside->brick->block->plaster->inside…basically a huge cold conductor into the house.  We demolished the office and bathroom first and have studded out new walls from the masonry and added water-proofing and insulation.

Uninsulated wall
Uninsulated wall

For my birthday, my brother-in-law and his wife bought me a thermal leak detector…one of those devices that can take instantaneous  temperature readings from a distance.  So, now that I have the office studded out and insulated, I thought it might be fun to compare the wall temperature of the new area with the uninsulated space of the rest of the area.  The entire area is basically unheated now as we are working so I suppose the difference would be more significant if we separated the areas a bit more and actually heated the area properly.  Anyhow, in the new area, my temperature reading was 64.7 deg F.  Not more than 5 feet away, I took a reading on the uninsulated part which was 54.5 deg F!  So, without separating the areas much at all, I can still see a 10 degree difference!

Insulated wall
Insulated wall

I took some additional readings which I thought were interesting.  In our bedroom, we suffer the same problem as the other rooms…the walls are uninsulated.  Although the are made of different materials, none of those materials is warm!  So, I took a reading on the bedroom wall which was 64.9 deg F.  I then moved to the new insulated window that replaced the old fashioned original windows.  The temperature of the window (windows are generally considered not to be great at keeping cold out) was 70.8 deg F!  I couldn’t believe the window was a better insulator than the wall!

The wall
The wall
The window
The window

So, I am certain now that the insulation projects I am doing are beneficial and the new windows I installed are well worth the money!

So what about you?  Ever quantify changes you’ve made to your place?  Have any good insulation stories to tell?

70 years of eeeewwwwwww!

Our house was built in 1939. I suppose someone has lived in it pretty much continuously since it was built. Said people probably used the kitchen sink about every day as well. Furthermore, occupants more than likely washed crumbs and chunks of food and marbles and all sorts of other stuff down the kitchen sink.

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(the original, offending pipes!)

Fast forward 70 years…a lovely, young, intelligent and beautiful couple moved in with their delightful children. Suffering from the sins of the folks who had mistreated the drains for 70 years prior, the brilliant couple discovered that their kitchen drain was stopped up (I wrote a limerick about it yesterday). A simple plunger and even a drain snake could not clear the clog.

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(hey, is that a pickle?  Yum!)

The handsome man of the house decided there was but one solution…buy a new tool and do exploratory surgery. Fortunately, the main drain from the sink was exposed in the basement.

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(part of the monstrosity/atrocity that I removed)

The original equipment was 2 inch galvanized steel. I originally cut the cleanout “Y” with my new reciprocating saw. It was clogged in both directions so I continued to cut back, piece at a time until I found clear pipe. All in all, I removed about 5 feet of pipe and 1000 pounds of corrosion and clog. Galvanized steel pipes (I recently learned from a co-worker) corrode on the inside and causes build-up. Sure enough, that’s exactly what I found. In the 2 inch pipe, there was approximately 1/2 inch of pipe still open. The remainder was a rock-solid corrosion that, of course, was a clog waiting to happen.

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(ahhhh…much better!)

So I finally found my clear pipe and hooked up new pvc drains and all is well. As I looked around more, I found that every single sink and tub drain in the house is made of galvanized steel. I think I see the next couple of years’ worth of projects…

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(we can do dishes again!)

So, if you live in an old house, what sort of quirks have you found? What about things that are unique to a new house?

Check out my pipes!

We’ve been involved in a years-long home remodel…basically since we moved in to the old money-pit, we’ve been fixing something.  We demolished the office and bathroom in the lower level.  When we did that, we found water issues and that’s really sort of what started our whole foundation project.  So, the foundation is done and working well.  I am pretty much out of excuses so I am back to working on the home project.

Our house was built in 1939.  I think that was before they invented cold because there is absolutely no insulation in our house.  Well, there was no insulation until I started another project earlier in the year.  Still, a too-large portion of our house is uninsulated.  As a part of the lower-level basement and office construction, we are studding out new walls from the existing masonry walls that work as huge temperature conductors presently.  In order to re-stud the walls, I had to move a bit of the bathroom plumbing.  Sweating copper is not too big of a deal, so I cut off the water using one of the many shut-offs we are fortunate enough to have in the water lines.

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(The Egyptians used similar valves in the pyramids!  This old one’s a leaker!)

So, the clues start rolling in as soon as we try to turn off the water.  First of all, the valve had hieroglyphics written on it.  As I turned it, I could hear the old washer inside grinding away.  The water would not completely cut off of course.  It just kept on dripping…not full blast, but dripping.  I was left with no alternative but to cut off the water to the whole house.  That valve is new and worked!  So, I turned off all the water and started cutting out the old pipe so I could hook up the new pipes around the studded out walls.  (jump ahead…once I got everything hooked up, I turned the water back on and the  old valve started leaking out the top…the washers inside had disintegrated indeed….that project will be next on the list!)

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(This pipe is insanely thick!)

Cutting copper pipe is no big deal at all with a handy pipe cutting tool.  They’re cheap and easy and work so well…unless you have ancient pipe.  They made serious pipe “back then” apparently.  My cutter’s blade was not able to cut the full depth of the old pipe.  I got a good groove cut into the old pipe, but had to finish it off with a hacksaw.  Luckily I had room to work!  At first, I wondered if the pipe was in fact copper.  It looks like copper.  It was definitely not steel or iron.  Maybe it was brass but I can’t imagine brass pipes…not as much as I have in my house.

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(This is normal pipe)

Anyhow, I got the old pipe out and the new installed.  I decided to sweat the bulk of the pipe outside away from the dry wood that makes up the interior of my house.  A good plumber might not burn my house down but I had no interest in testing my skills as a good plumber.  So I got all of the fittings and pipe joined outside and simply had to carry the joined pipes inside and make one connection to complete the project.  I could have soldered the last connection, but I found this great “push together” connection at my local big-box home improvement store.  Just shove pipes in each end and they’re joined.  These fittings are too expensive to use everywhere but one connection is within my budget!

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(I love this connector!)

So, the project is progressing nicely, but of course, it’s never as simple as it seems!

What about you…do you have any good home repair stories?  Please tell me I am not alone!  I beg you!

Our Quebec drain

We’ve been working for over a week on getting drains and piers installed around my house.

(here’s what was in my driveway waiting for me last night)

By we, I mean the great group of guys who have been at the house working in neck-deep mud and muck, shoveling way too much by hand.  The piers are installed and hopefully doing their thing.  We’re a little stuck on the drains though.  Eventually, we hope to have French drains installed around half the house.  The guys have it excavated and pipe installed everywhere it needs to go.

(It’s hard to see the drain part…it’s covered in fabric to keep dirt out.  They are giving me separate lines for my gutters which are seen here)

The problem is that we got another couple of inches of rain, so, once again, they cannot work and we have a huge, muddy mess.  So, while we’d like to have French drains, we currently have Quebec drains.  I don’t mean that as any slight to our friends in Quebec…all I mean is that we are like French drains in a lot of ways…we have most of the characteristics, but we are definitely not French and we’ll take offense at anyone who calls us French…drains I mean.

Anyhow, I can’t fault the installation company, but gee whiz what is with this weather?!  The moat is filling nicely and I absolutely may have to install a drawbridge soon.  Maybe August will be August-like…