It’s starting to look like a house! (BH #62)

February 5th, 2018

Josh got me drywallers for Christmas. :) I am soooo ready for this project to be over – such a huge feeling of relief washed over me when we decided that I wouldn’t have to do the drywall myself. This’ll save me at least a month of labor, I imagine, and I probably wouldn’t do it as well as the guys will. I can’t believe how fast they are – look what they’ve done in just one day!

The living room, looking out towards the water:




The old kitchen, now the TV room:



Come Monday, the plumber promises we’ll have a working faucet hooked up in the basement so that the drywall guys can do their first mudding. I can’t wait! Once all the mudding is done I can put up the doors and we’ll have actual rooms.

After that there remains:

  • bathroom tiling
  • the TV room floor
  • kitchen cabinets
  • closet doors and shelves
  • painting
  • trim, windows and baseboards and attic access
  • bathroom fixtures, toilets, towel bars, etc.
  • the fence in front, to prevent parking on the septic field
  • the driveway
  • the back porch laundry room and wooden door refinishing
  • refinishing the floors
  • hooking up some sort of filtration system to the well (we have a drinking filtration system for the kitchen sink already).
  • put up blinds
  • and undoubtedly some things I have forgotten.

And then of course we still have to actually get renters… Ugh! Every time I think the list is getting shorter, I realize how long it still is! :( Someone tell me it will be over soon!

Warm winter coat (BH #61)

February 3rd, 2018

Sorry for the hiatus in posts! I just haven’t been doing anything interesting in the house. Turns out it takes a long time to get all the details of insulation done – did you know you have to caulk between every top plate and bottom plate? Every double stud? Around every window? Plug every single hole in every single stud, not just the base plates and top plates? And then because almost none of the stud bays was the correct spacing, I had to go around and tape up every batt that I’d had to cut down to size, and it took WAY TOO LONG.

But this is what we’re left with:


Yay! Airtight and insulation in all the walls!

Then I had to clamber up into the attic and air seal up there as well. Around every light fixture, every smoke detector, every top plate, every drywall seam. Including the downstairs, I used approximately 25 cans of expanding foam. I had to cap each recessed light fixture with these fireproof cans, and air seal them too so that the insulation couldn’t touch them –  and then tape on some flags so that they could be found after being covered in 16″ of fluffy paper stuff. Then nail up lots of sticks that I’d marked with tape at 16″, too, so that I’d have a good depth reference for the cellulose.

Finally, every rafter bay had to be stapled with styrofoam baffles so that the insulation wouldn’t plug the soffits from venting, and that meant lying on my side balanced across ceiling joists trying desperately not to fall onto the drywall and ruin my new ceilings, while wrestling an air compressor and staple gun. That part was the worst.

I told Josh it was just like doing the balancey, core-clenching, breath-holding poses of my advanced yoga class, except on top of a jungle gym.


The vent from the porch roof had to be baffled up too – let the air flow! And then we could blow in the cellulose.

That part was actually pretty fun. It took longer than I’d thought it would – it was more like snowing than blasting. Took about 45 bags to do a bit less than 600 square feet and get R-49. This was my view all day:


I tried to take a picture of the snowing for you, but…

Yes, I wore a very good filter mask and some ski goggles.

Afterwards, ta-da!


That trench along the far side is the little plywooded catwalk I left for access to wires, etc.


It was kind of fun. I’m almost excited to do it to our own house, which also has almost no insulation in the attic (about 3″ of fiberglass).

And now I can turn on the thermostat and leave on the heat!

Repairs set in stone (BH #60)

January 5th, 2018

I did a bit more repair work outside while I could and patched up a couple more odds and ends.

I repaired the worst of the crack in the stones against the front porch, which involved digging out a lot of dirt and resetting a lot more loose stones than I’d thought.


And then I realized that now that the really bad parts are fixed, the middle (which looked nonexistent before!) now looks … well, really bad.



Sigh. That might have to wait til Spring.

Oh, I also finally got the old hole on the front wall – where the oil pipe deposit used to poke out – stuffed full of concrete. I’ll take an angle grinder to it soon and even it out a bit before I paint it:


And that white bar across the steps is holding in a few substantial patches, where BIG chunks of the stair nose had been knocked off in a few places. (But of course I didn’t take a before photo so you’ll just have to believe me.) I had to drill in a dozen or so concrete screws before I poured in the concrete patch material, and since I didn’t take off the form before I left I’m fairly anxious about the final result.

Wish I’d gotten the steps and deck wall painted before the weather turned from 65 to 12…

Concrete (BH #59)

January 3rd, 2018

On a day that wasn’t 12 degrees (in fact it was a miraculous 65! Thanks, global warming!) I finally got all the concrete poured on the outside. Our busted up old cracked disintegrating half-sidewalk (it fell 13 feet short of the driveway and 10 feet short of the mailbox) was jackhammered away before I even arrived.



I used JA & Sons Landscaping and I am glad I did. These guys worked late into the night – it was dark before they left – and they bent over backwards to make sure that I could see the final product before I left for vacation, squeezing me into their schedule two days ahead of time. They were careful to ok all the final formwork with me in every detail and pointed out several problems – and clever solutions! – that I had missed. They did a great job.




They poured the next day while I was staining the deck and the transformation was incredible.


Ignore that very last ugly patch of concrete where it meets the driveway. That’s going to be covered deep in gravel and will never show. Seriously though, check out the difference:



They were careful (with no prompting) to pour the new basement door area about an inch lower than the basement door threshold. Before it had been the opposite and so, obviously, we used to have water problems every time it rained.

And that’s not all….


I had them finish up the basement as well. Where previously there was nothing but sand, now there is floor:



Goodbye, old rotten oil tank! (Thanks, Craigslist.)

And thanks, JA & Sons!

Winter (BH #58)

January 1st, 2018

Winter is here, and we finished the preparations just in time. This is a shot of approximately 30% of the insulation I had to buy for this project:


I’ve been working feverishly at the insulation in the hopes of getting it finished before leaving on vacation. I got close, but not as close as I’d hoped, since every single bay, electrical hole, junction box, etc had to first be sealed and insulated with expanding poly foam which took a couple more days than I’d figured. At the last minute I begged a couple close friends to come over and help and we all slaved away for a few hours. (These are great people. I will stuff them with delicious woodfired pizza and will even attempt to like beer for them).

We didn’t get it quite finished, but I only had a few more hours of work to do the next (last) morning:


And check this out:


Insulation, where previously was only a gaping empty hole. (I’m pretty sure this is probably the only insulation in the ceilings of this half of the house. But since that half is not accessible from the attic, it’ll have to stay that way.)

While that was happening, this was happening too:


Can’t have insulated walls and turn on the heat when the ceiling is gaping open in three different rooms!! I know my limits, and there was no way I could do ceiling drywall by myself. It’s definitely a two-person job, but Josh has better things to do (like working to finance this project) so I made a judgement call and asked my trusty Carlos to do the drywall for me.


Oh, it’s just beautiful. (That square hole is attic access which I did patch in later).


Walls insulated, ceiling closed up – I turned the heat on to a sweltering 40*F. It was lovely. I could take off the first two of my several outer jackets and work with a modicum of mobility again. My fingers didn’t even go numb all day.

Look at this baby. So shiny. So warm.


Carlos and the guys can’t drywall the walls until the insulation has been finished and inspected*. That can’t happen until I caulk the outsides of all the carpentry joins, double studs, etc., and then staple and tape the insulation batts.

In the mean time at least I can turn the heat on in there now, because this was what the road looked like as I drove away:


And it only got worse – it’s 12 degrees right now! That’s just nuts!

*Insulation inspection is its own boondoggle. I’m stuck at that point since I want to get the energy company rebates for insulation (up to 75% off the total cost including labor!) but I can’t apply for those until I do a blower test (for a direct before/after comparison). But I can’t do a blower test until I have my walls all drywalled. But I can’t get my walls drywalled until I have my insulation inspection done. But I can’t get my insulation inspection passed until my attic and basement are already insulated. So it goes round and round… and figuring that out is my next big task. It may be that I just can’t get the rebates – which is BS since there was NO attic or basement insulation before, and the wall insulation was moldy, wet, and disgusting! Either way, once that inspection is done we can get some actual walls in here and it’ll feel like we’re in the home stretch.

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.