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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Emergency Toilet/Floor Repair: Not for those with Delicate Sensibilities!

What happens when you have only one toilet in your house, and said toilet Christmastime?  You make the repairs as quickly as your skill-level allows!

Allow me to preface this; I'm not going to go into all the gory details of what happens in the meantime, I'll leave that to your imagination.  Suffice it to say - thank God for nearby stores!

173 is an old house, and as an old house it has its quirks, foibles and age-related problems (sounds kinda like me!).  As an old house, it frequently dates itself, or rather - stands as a time capsule into how construction codes and/or methods have changed since 1928.  Here's the story...

It began one week ago today with a small water spot on the kitchen ceiling.  Water spots anywhere are a problem, spots on the kitchen ceiling call for immediate attention, especially in light of the fact that the spot was coming from under the toilet and directly over the stove.  IMMEDIATE attention.  On inspection, it was noted that the tiles on one side of the toilet felt a little punky.

I knew I was in trouble, I just didn't realize how much trouble.  When I removed the toilet a bunch of tiles came with it, right out of the floor.  A fairly large area of the floor was absolutely soaked, ground and all.  When I removed all the loose and wet grout and tiles, here's what I had:

A couple things to notice...there was a very thin piece of tin covering a large hole around the drain pipe, AND you are looking at the top of the pipe, notice anything?  Nope - I didn't remove the flange, there just wasn't one!  That's right - no flange.  And, you can't really tell in that picture, but the mortar (and that's what it was) was about and inch-and-a-half thick, so I had to dry it up - and quickly!   On goes the fan.

It took 'til after work the next day for the whole area to dry. Also, see that yellow towel on the floor?  I learned very quickly to stuff a rag into the drain pipe.  They say it's so you don't drop anything down there...fact is, every time the wind blew outside, it sent a gust through the pipe...use your imagination!

Anyway, after it dried, I used a grocery bag to draw an outline of the hole in the floor, transferred it to 1" thick plywood, cut it out and screwed it to the floor.

Still looking pretty ugly, but it was gittin' there!  Then came the problems.  The first was that I went to Lowe's and described my situation to the guy in the tile section. He recommended I use an "Adhesive/Grout" combination product.  I spread it out, raked it with the trowel, installed the tiles and let it sit.  TWO DAYS LATER (did I mention this is our only toilet?) the Adhesive/Grout still hadn't dried!!  With mounting frustration and urgency, I took out the tiles and cleaned up this "product".  I got some thinset, troweled it on, laid the tile and started to wait.  

The guy at Lowe's also told me that the flange should sit on top of the tile - so I installed the flange.  I include a generic picture here because there came a point when I just wasn't thinking - pictures.

For once, I had a stroke of genius - I should gently place the toilet to make sure everything fits!  And it didn't. With the flange sitting on top of the tile, my old toilet didn't sit on the floor.  Thaaat's right.  I thought about buying a new toilet just to avoid re-tiling again.  But the thinset was still wet, I couldn't justify such laziness.  So I tried to remove just enough tile to get the flange to be on the same level, but as I was gently hammering the flange further into the pipe - I used my left hand to balance myself - leaning directly on the tiles with the still-wet thinset.  Yup.  Lots of "$^%*(#" going on!  Out came the tiles, thinset cleaned up.  Only commode or not, I was done for the night.

Now we're up to Saturday.  It's been a looong week, but - wuddaya do?  I got the flange to level with the tile, and laid the tile for the 3rd time.  Aaaand - waited for that to dry.  When I awoke this morning - the thinset was hard as a rock and the tiles were solid!  Time to install the toilet!!  I used 3" exterior deck screws to attach the flange to the floor and did a few dry fittings.  As it turned out, because the toilet is so old, the openings on the flange for the Johnny Bolts didn't line up with the bolt holes on the toilet.  So, with the toilet in place, I drilled holes to screw in hanger bolts.  

The course threads go into the floor and the other end sticks up through the toilet base to secure it to the floor.  Then I removed the toilet, made sure the floor was clean and the underneath of the toilet was clean, put the wax ring in place, placed the toilet!!  Then bolted it in place like so:  

Six veeeery long days later, 173 has a functional toilet!!!  All that's left is the decorative bolt caps and caulking around the base.  I think that can wait 'til after Christmas.

This whole episode has me looking around the house for a good spot for a second commode, those of you who have more than one - count your blessings at this special time of year!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

O tannen baum!!

Christmas is my favorite time of year!  I always feel like a little kid in the days leading up to the big day.  At 173, we've always had some disagreement about when the tree should go up...of course I'd put it up on Black Friday but...  So, a great compromise was that I would put a tree on the front porch, pretty much at my whim.  This year I bought an artificial tree for the front porch.  I'm not into fake trees, but at $50 a tree, I thought it was time.  I think it turned out pretty good, especially when you consider it's really only seen from the sidewalk or street.

And here's a view from outside...notice it's dark out.  Not only so the lights show up better, but also because I'm still not ready for the big front porch remodel reveal...

Then, a week after the porch tree went up, the "main" tree was done.  THIS one's real!  Almost 9' of blue spruce (I think that's the variety):

Then a few pictures from around the house.  I love our entryway!

Ya know how when you've finished a job and you're all proud of it?  Well, I'm tickled at the way my phone stand turned out.  Just wish I had a better camera to capture the actual color and texture!

I love the needle-point Santa in the background!

One of my favorite ornaments (reminds me of the Linus-monster!)

If you look closely, you can see the front porch tree there in the distance:

And here's a shot showing both trees:

There you have it...a little Christmas decorating and a Merry Christmas to all!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Shabby Chic Phone Stand - Made at 173

This post linked to Power Tool Link Party at First Home Dreams and A Home in College Hill.

In the last year or so, I've gotten  into this thing of making stuff from scrap wood left over from different projects around the house.  I've made tool boxes, a shoe stand, an umbrella stand and a potting bench.  For years I've wanted a phone stand for our entryway but I could never find one just the right size.  See, I wanted one just so tall and just so wide so that it fit in just the right place.  A couple weeks ago I decided it was time to build one out of scrap wood and make it to the exact size I wanted.  Here it is:

Ha!!  Just kiddin'!  I could only WISH to make one that nice!  But...this is the picture that inspired the phone stand I envisioned.  The truth is, I simply don't have the skills to make one that nice, but like I said - it was my inspiration.

So I started with a couple old 2x4s I had used on an outdoor project a million years ago.  

(2x4s after being ripped)
After initially starting with 2x2 legs, I realized how clunky the stand was looking with the legs that size, so I ripped them down to 1x1.

(1x1 legs)
I used a some more scrap wood and, using my newly purchased Kreg Jig, made pocket holes to start putting the stand together.

Then came a scrap wood top and two "shelves".  I put this picture in mainly to show off my 1956 Atlas table saw, the one my uncle calls, "The table saw of death," due to its lack of ANY safety features.  It's old but it's done every job I've needed it to!
(The Table Saw of Death)
Just to fancy up the phone stand just a bit, I routed a simple profile into the top:

Once again, time to put it all together.  After standing back and staring for a few hours (okay minutes, but you guys out there know what I mean), I realized it needed just a little something more.  OFF TO HOME DEPOT!!  I picked up $3.00 worth of "rope" style trim, and glued it onto the shelves.

Construction phase complete!  From there it was a matter of finishing.  Here's what I used:

1.  Because the stand was made of pine and had several knots in it, I worried about bleed through.  So I primed the while thing with two coats of Kilz primer.  One coat would likely have been sufficient - but I obsess.

2. I was looking for that "shabby french cottage chic" look that seems so popular right now, so I painted the stand with Valspar's "Snowy Dusk"  which gave the stand a creamy white.

After the paint dried, I took sandpaper to some of the edges and sanded just barely to the bare wood.

3.  Then I went over section by section with Minwax "Jacobean" stain.  I wanted to use antiquing glaze but test runs on other scraps of wood didn't get the dark look I wanted on the parts I had sanded bare.  The stain worked great, I just had to be careful not to get too far ahead of myself.  The stain darkened the bare wood and left a beautiful patina on the paint.

Also notice how I left some of the stain in the crevices of the "rope" applique.  Tickled me to death!  Not literally of course, that'd be kinda weird.

4.  Once the stain dried thoroughly I had to decide on the finish coat.  I thought about polyurethane, but that has a tendency to yellow, and I really didn't want to mess with the finish and colors the paint and stain had accomplished.  So I applied 6 coats of paste wax.  I learned pretty quickly that if the can says to wait 10 - 15 minutes for the wax to dry before buffing - wait the 10-15 minutes!  Don't rush this step!  

And it was done.

My only camera is on my phone, so the pictures really don't show the colors very well, but I love the way it turned out!  Okay, so it doesn't much look like the inspiration picture, but it'll do and it fits EXACTLY where and how I wanted it to!

And that's the scrap wood phone stand made at 173.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Houses of my Life!

173 is a simple house.  As a matter-of-fact, if you ask 10 five year olds to draw a house...9 of them will draw mine! Of course the 10th one will be a prodigy and will draw some Frank Lloyd Wright Craftsman bungalow with mission-style touches throughout.  Yep, mine is a simple house.  But I love it!  I drive a lot for my job, so I often have 2 to 4 hours to just think about stuff.  Today I thought about the houses in my life, and how they probably lead me to 173.

I have no idea how many places I've lived in my lifetime.  I know there were at least 4 or 5 apartments when I was too young to remember, and several apartments in the '80s when I was just learning how to scratch out a living.  But there has been three houses that were truly important to me.  The first one is my parent's house.  This is the house I really grew up in, from the age of 9 (ish) through high school.  And this is probably the most important house in my life, from reasons esoteric to practical!  When my parents bought their house it was in pretty rough shape.  Here's a picture to give you an idea:

That's the back of the house.  I don't know what year it was, but my Dad and I (okay, mostly Dad) spent the better part of a summer (and precious baseball time) to take a wire brush to every single shake on the house.  Thaaaat's right...wire brush, scrub scrub scrub, next shake.  One infernal shake at a time.  I believe the picture  shows where Dad pulled off shakes to replace rotted or broken shakes on other places on the house.  

And I guess that's the point here...I spent some time when I was a kid helping dad work on the house.  I won't pretend to be able to put into words what those years mean to me.  Not only did I learn how to do things, but I learned how to work.  Not so much at the time though...I was kind of a lazy kid, just wanted to play "guns" or baseball or whatever else was going on in the neighborhood.  But I did do some things, I learned how to fix cedar shakes, some electrical work, plumbing, sheetrocking, and who know what else.  More importantly I learned to appreciate what I had, and that you couldn't wait for just weekends and vacations to get work done on the house.  My only wish is - I wish I didn't complain as much and paid closer attention to what was going on!  Youth is wasted on the wrong people.  By-the-way, here's Mom and Dad's house some 40 years later:

Then there was Gramma and Grampa's house.  I spent a lot of time in this house.  I was fortunate to have two uncles who were just about my age, so the house was a second home to me.  I never did any work there, with the exception of mowing the yard a time or two (I probably griped about that too), but this little house holds a lot of memories:

I think the house is a simple "American Farmhouse" style.  I love the simplicity and the lines.  It has character, life, it has stories to tell!

These are the two houses that really influenced my life.  Is it any wonder I fell in love with 173?

It's old, it's simple, and it reminds me every day of my childhood.  There's not a wall, door or floor that's plumb, square or level, but that's what we call "character" these days!  I've learned to live with its crookedness, straighten up what I can, and appreciate what I can't.  I love the story of 173. The father of the guy across the street built almost every house on my block, including mine.  I know the family that owned this house since it was built, they lived in it for 60 plus years!  

It has funny things about it.  When we first bought the house we found some rolled up wired with clamps on them attached to a transformer in the basement.  I wondered what kind of weird stuff went on down there!  Turns out, they used to run the wires out the basement window and attach them to the old metal trash cans.  When the raccoons got into the trash - ZAP!  A little shock chased them away!!  I love that story.  There're other stories like that, maybe I'll save them for another post, but isn't great to know the stories of your house?

So these are the houses of my life.  Two great houses that lead me to 173.  I'm a lucky guy!.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Front Porch - New Windows and Door

Before we bought 173, the front porch looked like this:

I loved the grill work in the door and the windows.  By-the-way, the lady in the picture is (along with her husband) the only owner of this house before us!  They owned the house since it was built in 1928!  The guy in the picture is the father of one of my best friends!  

A couple years after buying 173, we put a lot of work into the front porch.  At the time, we did the best we could with what we had, and it turned out pretty good.  The picture below shows the front porch after stripping the clapboard down to the bare wood, putting in a new ceiling, installing a ceiling fan, and a lot of painting.  

Notice how the windows opened into the porch?  Looks nice doesn't it?  Well, it wasn't.  They were constantly in the way, and they weren't the least bit weatherproof...

The other thing about our original remodel was that there are 13 windows in the front porch!  That's a lot of money, and back in the day, we just couldn't afford to replace them.    Well, a couple months ago I told you about hiring a contractor to work on the porch roofs.  Well, the guy did such a great job, I hired him to replace all the windows and doors!  So, last week (or maybe the week before) we moved all the porch furniture into the dining room, and I hinted at the project here:

Oh...and for years now I have lost sleep over the wisteria that we planted on the side of the porch.  That stuff may be beautiful in the summer, but it's insanely invasive, and beginning in the fall, all the way through 'til spring, it looked like this:

So, I was oh-so-sad to learn that in order for the windows to be properly replaced, the wisteria would have to come down!  (Can you read the false sorrow?  LOL) Anyway, the outside of the porch was really looking rough too.  The wood was so old and weathered it wouldn't hold paint anymore.  

Now, 173 is by no means a fancy house, but we do take pride in it and want the ol' house to look nice.  THIS does not look nice:

So, five days after the contractor started...we have new windows, and a new door with side lights.  I haven't taken the "after" pictures yet.  The inside of the porch won't get the spruce up from a painting perspective 'til spring, so I'll save that for another post in a few months.  In the meantime, here's a sneak peak...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hiring a Contractor - hoo boy

Because my porch roofs looked like this:

And because, in my dotage, I find myself less and less interested in heights...this morning before going to work I did something that totally goes against the grain of what I do (with my house that is!).  I hired a contractor.  In an earlier post I bemoaned the fact that it's pretty hard to find a contractor you're comfortable with, and getting one to actually show up for an estimate.  Luckily by word-of-mouth I found one that at least said all the right things.  Here's how it went...

I had asked a couple contractors I saw in the neighborhood to give me an estimate on how much to repair or replace the roofs on my front and back porch, a bump out on one side of the house, and the gable skirts on the front and back.  One guy came by, and without getting up on the roof at all, said he could replace the porch roofs with asphalt shingles, for about $2000.  Hmm, didn't sound too awfully I asked him to write up a contract and he said he would drop it off the next day.  A week later I called him and he said he got busy and forgot (!) but would email me the estimate THAT NIGHT.  A week later I ran into a neighbor whom this guy had done some work for.  She said that the contractor told her that he had dropped off the estimate the FIRST day.  The nerve!  I didn't say much to my neighbor about it, but it really showed his true colors...secretly I wish for the best for my neighbor.

Then a friend's husband was recommended.  And of course I was pretty leery of that situation!  But I asked him to come out to the house.  AND HE DID!  WHEN HE SAID HE WOULD!  Turns out he didn't do the kind of work that I needed done - AND HE SAID SO!  Here's the really cool part - he said he had worked with a guy on other jobs that did roofing.  He called him, right then and there, and I was able to speak to the roofer - right then and there.  TOTALLY new experience for me.  Anyway...this roofer guy says he'll stop by the next day (while I'm at work) and look the job over.  He'd write up an estimate and email it to me (I've heard that before!), BUT, it was going to be a holiday weekend so he probably wouldn't get the estimate to me before the following Tuesday (heeeere we go...).  The next day when I got home from work, the roofer's business card was on my front door, and get this - on the back was his cell phone number!  On Monday, the actual holiday, and a full day BEFORE he said he'd get the estimate to me, I received a detailed estimate in my email!  NOW we're talkin'!

After some delays (on my part due to work commitments) I met with the roofer this morning.  A couple things of note - He showed up 5 minutes early, he went over the contract with me, walking around the house and showing all that was included in the price and how it was documented on the contract, he asked for a reasonable down payment and said the balance would be due when all the work was done to my satisfaction!  AND he took a check.  That's right - a check.  I know it sounds funny, but my limited experience with contractors had been cash only!  

A couple other things of note...on the contract was a statement that he was insured (I don't remember, something for liability and worker's comp or something).  I guess this would help if for some reason (God forbid) I ended up in court.  The other thing was the roofer explained his plan for weather contingencies and the products he would be using so I could look them up.

Okay, no work's actually been done yet, but for my first time in dealing with a contractor I have a good feeling!  I'll keep you posted...

PS:  Remember the first contractor I told you about?  He was gonna put asphalt shingles on my porches?  Well, turns out my roofs (or is it rooves???) don't have enough slope for that kind of application!  Gotta do our homework!!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fall Plantings!

Work has me really tied up right now.  There's still a few projects that need to get done before the snow flies, but they are projects that'll take more than a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon, so...I'm trying to get some of the smaller "optional" projects done.  This morning I went to Marshall's to get a new pair of slippers...yep, I actually blogged that - slippers.  Well, I didn't find any that I liked, but on the way home I passed our favorite nursery.  Just as I was blowing by I saw a huge sign - "Clearance on all Nursery Items."

Briefly, the back story:  When we bought our house many years ago now, there were three HUGE old maples trees in the Devil's Strip between the sidewalk and the road.  They were beautiful, but very old, weak and diseased.  As much as I hated to do it - I had the city take them down.  For the past several years we thought and debated about putting in some new trees.  And each year, we'd say - "yeah!  lets get some in."  Then another year would go by, and we just didn't get to it.

Back to today.  I saw that sign at the nursery and made a hard right from the far left and pulled into the parking lot.  Fifteen minutes later I was driving down the street with two trees sticking out the back of this:

It must have looked hilarious!  Anyway, I picked up two trees, a Kwansan Cherry, and a Fringe Tree.

Apparently the Kwansan Cherry tree is the type that blooms so beautifully for the Cherry Festival in DC.  So maybe one spring (hopefully) not too many years from now, this:

Will look like this:

Then there's the Fringe Tree.  I've seen them around before but had no idea what they were called.  They get really pretty flowers in the spring:

And end up looking like:

But for now she looks like this:

There's something fun about watching a tree planted with my own hands (okay, I dug the hole) grow over the years.  There ya have it.

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