Dressed up for Christmas (BH #57)

December 10th, 2017

Josh suggested back in October that I tart up the house for Christmas, run some lights out there, etc. I dismissed the idea, partly because I was hoping we wouldn’t be working in there long enough to make the Christmas lights worth putting up and then taking down again (HA, so much for that), and partly because… well, we don’t have electricity.


However I was at Michael’s the other day and everything Christmas is like 50-70% off. So I saw these $5 wreaths and a spool of $8 ribbon and thought… why not? I can’t do math but it all came out to about $12ish.


It’s not blingy or sparkly but it does look festive.

Someone stopped by the other day and said good job, it actually looks like a home now. That’s nice to hear. I still want to print and pin up a giant poster-sized “Before” pic, though!

Did you notice anything about the deck by the way? Perhaps something about the posts and columns?


How about those handrails, eh? How ’bout those GORGEOUS post caps and bases? 😀 Yup, finally finished them. Took me a few days. Whew! I had been putting them off FOREVER.


^- Pic from halfway through. Making these was… not the most fun I have ever had.

Precision work is not super enjoyable for me. Especially when mostly working blind, on top of a teetery ladder or clambering on deck railings swinging heavy nail guns, hanging out over the street with one arm wrapped desperately around a column while trying to nail blindly into the opposite side of the post. With numb fingers and wood glue in my hair. Getting stabbed in the ear by the long ends of the clamps.


Worth it? I think so. (Sofía says it still looks like a trash house, but I think she is just being a butt because she is grumpy, and nine, and wants me to stop taking pictures of the house and just go home already so she can play video games instead of always hanging out here, mom, it’s so boring.)


Also, I’m not 100% sure that I’ll leave the middle post base column tucked behind the deck skirt like that – from this angle you can’t even tell that it’s there. Facing the steps it’s obvious, but from the street it looks a little funny to me. But to redo it I’d have to take down all the railings and change up the connectors and cut the railings down to size etc… ugh! Too many projects!

All but one (BH #56)

December 8th, 2017

Guess what we got this past week?



Well, sort of. There’s only one outlet actually connected. And no lights yet. Those get put in after drywall. But still – the grunt work is done.

And plumbing!


Hooray for toilet flanges!

Just like with the electrical, the stuff has only been “roughed in” which means that none of it is actually connected to the power/water sources yet, but the inspector can see how it is all hooked up before the walls get closed in.

But look! A bathtub!


Whew, I even measured the framing correctly! This is the original, cast-iron bathtub, which is in pretty darn good shape. A couple dings and some discoloration – it will be fairly easy to spiff up.

And … what’s that?


Is that an air register I see? Why, YES! We even have a heating/AC system in place now!

Unlike everything else, all the HVAC is finished and ready to go except that we don’t have quite enough electricity to (reliably) run it at this point – it might crap out if the emergency heat has to kick on. (Well, and not to mention that we have zero insulation pretty much so we’d just be heating the outdoors at this point.)

We’re waiting for the “heavy-up” service to upgrade us to 200 amps. And that part happens in the power company’s own sweet time…on like December 18th. IF it doesn’t rain. Good gravy, I hope they bump up our power before we get water in those pipes and I HAVE to turn the heat on.

Look, we even got stickers for being so good!


Electrical, plumbing, and mechanical permits passed. Now for the framing inspection – and that’s the one I’m really nervous about since there’s so much weird framing in this house!


Outside… so close! (BH #55)

November 29th, 2017

Oooh boy! I’ve been waiting for this post for EVER!!! While the inside of the house is still a skeleton with its guts hanging out, the outside looks…. so much closer to finished! I still have to replace the old fence, stain the deck and finish its trim and handrail, pour a new cement walkway and resurface the gravel driveway. But the house itself is nearly done! Done enough for some light celebration, anyway.

Ready for some slightly-premature before-and-afters?





And I just realized there’s a little more (invisible) work on the roof to get done. As well as placing new house numbers. AND repairing and painting the front steps and cinderblock edging around the deck. AND power-washing the stone wall.

Oh lord. Now I’m wondering if I should even publish this at all. GAH! Every time I think I’m nearly there…. UGH!

Priming and landscaping (BH #54)

November 27th, 2017

I always think I like painting until I begin actually painting. I kind of always end up forgetting how tedious it is – especially all the cutting-in, and how you have to prime before you can even get to the satisfying part, which is watching the final coat gradually quickly up the old worn surface with big swaths of the roller.

It took most of one day to get it all cut in and primed. I bought a super-high-end primer, hoping that this would help make up for any remaining peeling paint that I hadn’t managed to get off. It was as thick as chocolate pudding – no exaggeration.


(I’m planning to ask the plumbers to cut off that little oil tank pipe stub sticking out of the front, and then I’ll patch and paint the hole.)

I ended up staying til around 9 or ten, working by the light of a street light and a headlamp, to get the final color all cut in and save myself the time the next day.


At the same time, I managed to get a little bit of landscaping in! I mean, no real landscaping is possible in winter – which makes me sad about how the house will look when we do tenant viewing – but I’ll do what I can to make it look cleaner, at least.

I had yearned for big, blowsy white panicle hydrangeas in front. I thought they would look fantastic against the light grey siding. I was planning on pairing them with a purple-leaved redbud or crape myrtle where that little trash mulberry used to be (upper left of the stone wall). But by the time the siding was done and I felt safe putting them in (so they wouldn’t get trampled), Lowe’s was out of hydrangeas and crape myrtles entirely. Out of almost everything, actually. Seeing as how it was mid-November.

However, I did manage to snag their last four Nanho Blue butterfly bushes for 75% off – $5 each! That’s a deal I won’t say no to, and that lovely soft blue-purple will look nice against the cedar and grey too.


Buddleia has a wispier, less compact habit than hydrangeas which I’m not thrilled about, but they should get to about the same size – 5×5.

Hydrangea “Little Lime”:

panicle hyrangea

Buddleia “Adonis”:


To spread the bushes out a little more, I cut chunks from the enormous Japanese zebragrass (also called Sawgrass) that’s already growing by the driveway, all on its lonesome.


Looks kind of silly out there all alone. So I thought transplanting pieces of it, rather than adding some other new plant, would build in a kind of visual resonance and stability to the whole picture. Eventually.


I alternated the grass with the buddleia bushes in a staggered pattern, grass towards the back and buddleia towards the front.


The plants are so small right now that you can barely see them in photos. They’d be plenty visible if I mulched around them, but I didn’t want to start mulching because it takes so much maintenance. I mean, I don’t even take care of the mulch at my own house! I figured that if we just let grass grow around them, they’ll be easy to mow around (there’s 3-5 feet between each plant) and they won’t look weedy.

I may rethink that though – I’ll mow around them once before I decide. Well-done landscaping pulls a house together so beautifully.


In the mean time, you can barely see anything at all!


Progress inside (BH #53)

November 25th, 2017

I should have mentioned that I made some progress on the inside as well before starting the painting outside. In fact, the painting outside was pretty well timed because after I finished all this work here, the electricians took over and I was without power entirely. They’re supposed to finish all their work at the beginning of next week, but in the mean time the house is so full of wires hanging from the ceiling and poking out from the walls that it looks like it’s been disemboweled.

I had to finish up all the framing before they could get in there to do their thing. And the last bit of framing that hadn’t been done yet was – ta-da! – the kitchen.


I got some beefy guys to help me move in the appliances (all from Second Chance) so I could better judge layout. The short wall right here is the breakfast bar, and you’re looking at the back of the dishwasher. The fridge isn’t in quite the right spot – too close to the stove – but you get the idea.


The wall at the far end is the backsplash for the counter that runs along there. I accidentally made it about 2 inches too tall, and decided that I didn’t have time to lower it down. The difference in its height influences nothing, but it bothers me nonetheless.  Oh well – I had to get out of there so the electricians could start. After waiting two months for them to arrive, I didn’t want to have to reschedule over a matter of two inches!

It’s pretty cool to see it all taking shape for real.

Cinderblock makeover (BH #52)

November 23rd, 2017

With the siding almost finished, all that was left was to finish up the cinderblocks underneath. Last week I realized with some anxiety that by the time we got back from our upcoming Thanksgiving vacation, temperatures would be in the freezing range. That meant I needed to get the paint on now now now – and I had only 3 days left to get it done before our plane trip.

I knew I had some peeling paint to deal with, but I didn’t realize how much until I saw it close up.

Step 1: I demolished the weird old planter outside the basement door and took down all the random screws and things that I could easily get out of the cinderblock.

Step 2: I started with a brass wire brush attached to a sturdy drill and got the big bits that would come off easily.

Step 3: Citristrip came next, but it could only really get the top, thin layer to come up and not the thicker layer underneath that was the real problem. That was ok because the top layer was really crumbly, crazed like the bottom of a mudpit after a hot summer.

Step 4: I scraped and scraped with a small metal spatula, trying to chip off the bigger pieces underneath. It wasn’t working too well and I realized with how stubborn it was being, I probably could have just painted over it.

Step 5: Back to work with the drill and wire brush.

Step 6: TSP. I bought a scrub brush attached to a long wooden pole. I lashed a huge rubbermaid tub into the back of my truck and filled it from the garden hose. Since there’s no running water at the house, I used 5 gallon buckets to lug water around. I mixed my TSP slurries in there and scrubbed the heck out of the cinderblock. It took three buckets for each wash, and I had to wash it twice before the water started getting clear.

Step 7: Rinsing. Repeat everything except omitting the TSP.

Step 8: Repair! I used masonry crack sealer to stop up all the little cracks and pits and holes here and there. I had been going to fill the larger gouges and hollows as well with a mortar paste, but at that point I was so exhausted I decided I just didn’t care.

In fact, come to think of it, it probably would’ve been easier to just nail up some diamond mesh and skim coat the whole thing with a fresh layer of mortar. And would have looked better too. UGH.

So all that took one and a half days to accomplish, and left me with this:



It’s even worse than before!


Siding has begun! (BH#51)

November 21st, 2017

The siding is finally going up!!!

After having its old broken cement shingles ripped off, the house has been sitting here like this for weeks:


Sheets of tar paper slowly peeling off like skin after a bad sunburn. The sad sunburn of neglect.

So I’m betting the neighbors were glad to see this:


They got through this side and this one before they had to leave again, and then couldn’t come back until after a short cold snap passed.


Meanwhile, the front of the house just sat there and peeled. Poor, tolerant neighbors.

But they finally came back and in a few days had accomplished this!


The gutters and soffits aren’t finished yet, but you can already see how cute it’s going to be when done.

Little basement jewel (BH #50)

November 19th, 2017

Making one thing pretty at a time. I refinished that basement door!

I used citristrip, an environmentally-friendly stripper that works really well, especially on water-based paints. Glopped it on and the paint bubbled right up after ten minutes or so. It was super easy to scrape off. After all the remaining goop was washed off and the remaining surface was sanded and wiped clean, a nice coat of metal primer went on easily.



I got new hardware along with an entirely new door glass from Zabitat for about $65. Better than $200+ for a new half-glass metal door. I also had to get a new bottom for it since the old one was rusted out.

The glass and grille went in like a dream, just perfectly. I followed the metal primer with two coats of this gorgeous peacock color:


(Oops, forgot to take the painter’s tape off the doorknob before taking this shot.)

This color (it’s more greenish in person) has been my favorite color for years and years. It’s also the color of the front door on the house where I grew up, and I love it.

So while the house sits there sadly losing whole sheets of its old tar paper and looking like an absolute wreck…


At least the door is pretty!

Purtification (BH #49)

November 10th, 2017

First semi-finished wall surface is (almost) in place!





Since the inspector can see the inside of this wall from the other side, I went ahead and covered up the outside with some 1/2″ insulation and beadboard. It’s amazing what a visual difference a finished looking surface makes, even when it’s not yet finished (I still have that last little scrap section in the middle to fill in). I can’t wait til it’s all neatly put together and painted!


Bathroom framing done (Beach house #48)

November 8th, 2017

The plumber visited today! Just to make his materials list, but… it means we’re getting close to the finish line!

The bathroom framing is all done. I mean, it had ALREADY been done…. until we decided to flip around the back bathroom at the last minute.

This is what it looked like before:

bathrooms current

The TV room – which could be used as a bedroom but is probably the last choice – is an odd place to have a full bath. So we flipped it horizontally so that the back bedroom is now the master. This lets us maintain the TV room as a flex space – dining room, den, or if necessary, bedroom. This is what it looks like now:

bathrooms changed

(The people on the couch in the front room are there to see what it would look like if someone did decide to put their couch there instead.)

So I had to rip out all the previous framing I had done in the master bathroom and flip it all around. It only took Sunday afternoon so I shouldn’t be complaining.

Looking into the bathroom entrance from the master bedroom:


The bathroom layout from the doorway:


In order to get the extra space to have two bathrooms, I had to move the  bedroom doorways down and put them off a little mini-hallway. Which is also done. Looking into the hallway from the master bedroom:


All the framing that I have left to do is an extra closet in the master. I had wanted to leave a little alcove for a dresser instead, but the closet in there was really small even for just one person. No way it would work for a couple. So that’s on tomorrow’s agenda. And then I should be DONE with all the framing!