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The realty market conditions in Tulsa where a a low point when we put the last property up for sale. The government rebate had expired, people were still cautious about the economy, and houses were just not selling. We only had the house on a market for a month when we decided to rent it out. The good news was that we rented it the first day we advertised on Craigs List. It turned out to be a great decision. In the six months since we rented it, none of the comparables in the area have sold. All of them  are still sitting with for sale signs, even with reduced prices. We found good renters and are very happy with the decision.

The bad news is our capital was tied up in the rental property.  We were somewhat limited to how we could finance a next project. Under the current banking market, loans on rental properties are quite tight. Since this is our first rental property we don’t  have enough track record for a banks to loan us the full value of the rental. A retail loan was possible, but only for half of what we originally paid for the house, since we had it less than a year. We finally went with a small commercial loan with a 3 year balloon to finance the next project. The rental income will easily service the loan and allow us to continue. This will give us three years to sell one of our properties. I’m confident this will happen, although we could easily pay off all borrowed funds in the next 10 years with rental income from the next project house.

Since our funds were limited we looked in a new direction. We ended up purchasing a Fannie Mae property at national auction. This property had been on the market for close to 6 months before they put it up for auction. This isn’t a typical auction though. Before the auction begins,  Pre-Sale bids are accepted a week before the auction, then they take actual auction bids for about 12 days. However it is nowhere close to over after the auction ends. Once it ends, post auction bids are accepted. If you are the high bid then you begin negotiations with Fannie Mae until an a preliminary agreement  is made. Once you get to this point you need to prove to Fannie Mae that you have the funds available to purchase the property and you have to give them other information about who you are and what you plan to do with the property. Only then will they actually look at your bid. That’s the government way.

In our case we placed a bid on the property. We were outbid in the last hour of the auction. We made a post auction bid which the previous high bidder did not counter. This bidder also had bids on other properties at the time. We had to wait 10 days for the post auction bids to end. No other bids were offered, so a preliminary acceptance was given. We submitted a buyers contract, proof of funds, personal information; and then waited. At this point we were confident that we had won the property, but this wasn’t the case. Since there was a Pre-Sale offer and other criteria was or wasn’t met, our bid was rejected. Fannie Mae requested a “Best and Final” offer which we submitted and it was eventually accepted. The whole nail biting process took about a month. Once the offer was accepted we closed three days later. This was very much a “wait to hurry up situation.”

Not sure exactly what we plan to do with the exterior. It has nice curb appeal as is, but improvement will happen. We will need to add a deck to the french doors on the back and do some minor repairs.

This is what the living room looked like when we got it. The floors and windows need to be redone but it is in pretty good shape. Carri would like to put stained glass in the upper window pain on the front window and maybe in other places around the house.

The tile is peel and stick on top of oak. We will refinish the oak floors and add wainscot around the walls.

The previous owner had started on the kitchen. We will finish it by adding crown molding, stain and finish the cabinets, and open the doorway to the right. We plan to add a bar in its place.

The stairs have oak treads but they have been painted. We will sand and finish the treads and add an oak handrail.

The bedroom floors and woodwork, and windows will be redone.

The main tasks will be renovating the windows. At the moment we plan on removing all of the sashes, restore them to original condition and re-install, but that could change. We already have the pier company scheduled to stabilize the chimney. We are really excited about this project. We plan to do a track the development here on the blog as well as add a few Hot-to videos. Sign up for the live feed or track us on Facebook. Hope we can make the experience interesting to others.


20th January 2011


The past 2 weeks we have been measuring, planning and buying the materials for the renovation.

We decided to go ahead and replace the windows.  We found 7 that are stock and had to order 9 more custom.

The house has one full bath upstairs and the tub is place under a slope due to the pitch of the roof.  The former owner had tiled the walls, but only up to the slope. I want to finish tiling the roof area because it is very likely to get wet when the shower is used.  Matching tile can be near impossible, but I came up with a solution.  I’ll replace the accent tiles with a more neutral accent tile and replace the tiles above that with tiles that compliment the lower walls.  I’m going to use the same accent tiles for the edge trim it ought to look great!

We are going to stain the oak cabinets in the kitchen with a “pecan” colored stain. They’ll be a light golden brown when finished.  I chose a dark brown laminate for the counter tops that has a random gold pattern and I’ll be using cream colored subway tiles for the back splash.  We have found almond colored ceramic knobs for the cabinets.  It should look very inviting!

Getting Started. Weekend One.

24th January 2011


Starting a renovation during the holidays, not to mention winter in general isn’t easy. We have had the house for almost a month and haven’t done much physical labor on the place. We’ve done a lot of cleaning, measuring, planning, and buying materials, but little renovation work. That changed this weekend!

I got an early start on Saturday. It was too cold to do mud drywall or paint anything so I started looking for other things to do. I decided to finish the crown molding above the kitchen cabinets.  The cabinets were already there when we bought the house. They were basic off-the-shelf unfinished oak cabinets from Lowes. We decided to give them a customized look with some oak crown molding. This part of the morning went smoothly. I’m adding a few custom cabinets to the bank of cabinets where the range, vent hood and refrigerator go so I wasn’t able to finish the entire kitchen, but I really like how everything was beginning to look.

Carri wanted to add a sit in eating area to the kitchen. We decided to remove a section of dividing wall between the kitchen and dining room and add a bar. I pulled off some the sheet rock to see how it could be done. We really got lucky here. There was a laminated header header spanning the full length of the divide. All I had to do was remove the sheet rock and a couple of  studs and finish off the opening. This went very quickly. There was no framing required. I simply sheet rocked the opening and added metal corner bead. It was too cold to mud the opening so I went on to another project.

We already had purchased some of the replacement windows. Lowes had a sale  on some of their stock windows so I got what I could there. They stock very few sizes so my options were limited. I was able to buy 6 3×4.5 Energy Star rated replacement windows for the  living room and back bedroom and one 3×3 for the kitchen. Even though these were replacement windows I would still need to re-frame the opening since they were not an exact fit. It would be a little bit more work, but the 20% plus savings made it worthwhile. I finished off the day by starting to replace the kitchen window. I was short a  few tools so I tacked it in temporarily and called it a day.

Sunday started off with finishing  the kitchen window and starting on the living room windows.  Each window went a little quicker, but getting started was slow. The brutal cold didn’t help much either. I was finishing up the second living room windows when Carri stopped by to make the final decisions on the kitchen layout. We didn’t finalize the plan but we got a little closer. I’ll spend the rest of the week working on the custom cabinets at home and have them ready next weekend. All in all it was a productive weekend. Nothing is finished but a lot of projects are underway. Everything will fall together before I know it.



Finding good deals on building supplies is exciting. A recent trip to a local lumber store “bone yard” netted us a brand new direct vent fireplace insert for $150.00 and a decent deal on the exact cabinet hardware Carri was looking for. We jumped on these deals immediately, however there were some hidden costs. First of all, the insert was slightly larger than the existing  opening, so modifications to the fireplace are needed.  Secondly, the cost of the flue and cap will be more than the cost of the insert.  Along with adding a blower and redoing the hearth the final cost will more than triple, but the finished product will be a great addition.

The previous owner had already started redoing the fireplace. They added some tile on the mantel and  hearth, but it was poorly  done so I didn’t hesitate pulling it up. To make the insert fit I had to remove  the entire hearth which consisted of the top layer of tile, a layer of 2 inch slate and a mud bed. In addition, I removed the first layer of fire brick from the floor of the the fireplace which gave me enough clearance to slide in the insert. I still need to relieve the edges on the sides so that it will slide back a inch or two further, but it will work. The only problem is that I will need to construct the hearth so that it can removed easily in case the insert ever needs to be removed for service. I’ll work out all of the details after the flue pipe and blower are delivered. Once installed, Carri will dress up the exterior with marble tile or something to finish it off.

I had gone as far as possible on the fireplace so I went on to other projects.  One evening earlier in the week, I had mudded the sheet rock  so  it was ready to be sanded. There was just the  edge bead around the dining room, a ceiling patch in the kitchen, a patched hole from moving  a light switch box, and a skim coat over the dings created while removing the wall paper. Compared to the amount of sheet rock work on our past reno’s it was nothing. I’ll still need to do some work on the laundry/pantry, but that will wait until the end of this project.  Once the dust cleared Carri stopped her work on the removing staples from the floor and we finalized our plans for finishing the dining room.  We  set up the hutch/bar base and began adding the base of the wainscot. Once the base was installed we were able to dry fit the rails and styles to get an idea of where we we going with it. We held off on permanently installing them  until we are ready to trim them out.

We got a lot done on Saturday. It couldn’t have been a nicer day.  A sunny 70 plus  degrees in January was a pleasant surprise but unfortunately it wouldn’t last. The next morning was overcast, windy, and cold. Not the best conditions for replacing the last three windows we had on hand, but then I was getting used to it. The good news was that the process went from three hours for the first window to under 40 minutes for the last.  Once the last window was in, I began to do the final caulking on all of the windows. The first two windows went quickly, but half way through the third the caulk had begun to thicken due to the cold and the cardboard tube split open. I changed tubes and it split open almost immediately.  That was enough for the day. The windows would have to wait another week. If everything goes well the final eight windows will be delivered this week and I can continue next weekend, weather permitting. The weather forecast for the week doesn’t look good though. I plan on spending my free time in the evenings in the garage working on the millwork for the wainscot and cabinets. I’ll have plenty of options on projects I can work on next weekend. It will be nice to actually finish a project. I’ve started about a dozen and finished none, but at least things are getting done.

Let there be lights!

07th February 2011


Sutherland’s was having a clearance.  And what a great clearance.  I was so excited, just like a little kid turned loose with $20 dollars in a dime store!  I found matching lighting for all of the first floor rooms, including the bathroom!

I saved about 75% and found lighting that exceeded my expectations.

When the Dust Settles!

12th February 2011


Saw dust was flying everywhere! We just about have all of the wainscoting in the dining room and all of the trim set up in the kitchen.

We have to wait until our custom windows get at Home Depot to finish up the trim in the dining room.  Even with the old window in place it’s beginning to take shape.

The bar / hutch is fixed and ready for laminate.  Dave said tonight that he is planning on recycling some of the windows we are removing and putting glass doors on the front of the hutch.  That should dress things up nicely!

The trim Dave made is fitting in wonderfully.  It’s just a double bull nose with the top being wider but it looks like a very unique one piece chair rail when installed.

We tossed and turned about how to trim out the kitchen window.  At first I thought sheet rock and a narrow window trim.  There is so little room between the window and the oak cabinets that we opted to try a wide oak trim that spans the total area.  As you can see, it is working wonderfully and adds a continuity to transition from cabinet to window and back to cabinet.

The previous owner left the cabinets going nowhere on the wall for the stove and refrigerator.  They just didn’t leave anything to anchor  the vent or to add to the symmetry.  We knew it looked unbalanced and tossed out many thoughts.  There are 2 doorways in the area and it is a bit crowded.  Dave came up with the solution to round the corners on the the cabinets and it works so well.

We started to try to cut back the cheesy looking counter tops to prep them for new laminate, but found out quickly we will be replacing it.  It was cut badly to begin with and we just don’t have enough area at the sink to make it work.

Before he left tonight Dave put a coat of primer on all of the wainscoting to get it closer to ready to paint!

I have created my back splash pattern and have made a template to see how it will work……………..OMG.  I love it………I will show you more on this topic next time!

Kitchen Lights

20th February 2011


The kitchen came with a “boob light” and a bar of tract lights.

It looked awful and just didn’t go well.  Then boob light is OK, but just too plain.  The tract lighting looked like something out of an 80’s disco!  Not appropriate at all.

We lucked into the upgrades for the first floor lighting fixtures at Sutherland’s but the kitchen needing more illumination than the upgraded light would provide.

Dave came up with the idea for some recessed lighting.  It’s economical and very effective.

We should be replacing the boob light soon, but just the recessed light made such a huge difference!

These photos show the new kitchen light, the newly stained cabinets, the new recessed lights, and the new counter tops!

Lot’s of work is starting to come together!

Laminates  are one of the quickest, easiest, and most economical ways to upgrade counter tops. With a little planning, basic DIY skills, and the right tools a first timer can get excellent results. The basic tools required are a circular saw with fine tooth blade, router/trimmer with carbide trim bit, a couple of hand  files, large framing square,  fine tooth hack saw blade. The materials required are the laminate sheets, contact cement, brush, and masking tape.

Once you have selected the style of laminate you want, the next step is lay out. Laminate sheets are available in a variety of lengths and widths. Common sizes are:

4’ x 8’     3’ x 6’     3’ x 8’        3’ x 10’    3’ x 12’    4’ x 8’        4’ x 10’    4’ x 12’    5’ x 12’

However you should check to see what sizes are available before you finalize the layout. Measure the length,width, and depth of the counter top using a large square.  Make sure to measure for the longest distance of any dimension and add an inch or more for overhang and scribing for out of square walls.  If possible I try to cover the entire counter without joints, unfortunately this is rarely possible for a variety of reasons.  When a  joint is needed, I attempt to align the seam in a manner that it will show the least.  One way would be to locate the seam in the middle of a sink or stove cut out.  The advantage here is that the seams will be much smaller than if it spanned the entire depth of the cabinet. The disadvantage is that the seam could fail if not sealed properly. Another method is to locate the seam longitudinally to your main source of light or vision. This would be either inline with a window (source of light) or in line with the longest dimension of your room. You could also do a diagonal joint in corners, however they would be longer and more difficult to accomplish. With all this said I usually layout my sheet to minimize waste. Here is the layout I used for this project.
Cutting the large unwieldy sheets is the most difficult part of installing a laminate counter top. I have learned a few techniques that help a great deal though. I start with a piece of oriented strand board for my cutting top. Since I used this for the counter top substrate, I  had several scrap pieces laying around already, but if not, I would have gone o the local lumber yard and get one. For under $5.00 you can insure straight accurate cuts, have a clean level cutting surface, and minimize errors and waste in cutting the laminate sheet. Another technique I have learned is to turn the saw blade backwards in the saw. Extreme caution is advised here, but it can work quite well. Cutting with the back of the blade minimizes chipping. In some ways it is more of a melting process than a cutting process, however I have managed much cleaner cuts this way.

I begin by cutting the end strips from both sides of the large sheet. The reason for this is that by using a factory edge, an accurate square cut is ensured and this edge can be used as a finished edge. I use the factory edge as the underside of the cabinet edge. as long as you place it accurately, you will not have to trim the underside. It is much easier to trim the top edge than it is to trim the bottom edge near corners and walls. I simply lay the laminate sheet on the plywood, line up the edges and use the saws built in rip fence to cut the strips. The blade depth is set just deep enough to the laminate. As long as I cut carefully the weight of the laminate sheet is enough to keep it from moving. I have always got very accurate cuts using this method


At any joint a completely straight and clean cut is required. I use a couple of c-clamps, and a level as a straight edge to cut my seams. One added precaution is to place tape on both sides of the cut. This will protect the surface from scratches caused by the heal of the saw and reduce chipping

Once all of the pieces are cut dry fitting the cut pieces will show if further trimming is required. On this project the wall on the right of the cabinets was so far out of square there was about a 3/4 inch gap in the middle. I began by placing both top pieces on the counter, butting the two together, then running a small 3/4 block of wood with a pencil in front scribed the contour of the back wall. Since we will be putting up a tile back splash, this cut did not have to be extremely accurate or clean so I cut at the pencil line free hand with the circular saw.

The gluing process is fairly straight forward. Starting with the sides, I brush an even coat of contact cement on the counter top and laminate strips. Once the contact cement has dried to the touch on both, I carefully position the factory edge of the strip along the bottom of the cabinet face. The good news is that once the strip is applied, you can immediately trim the top flush with the router. I use a fine tooth hack saw blade to trim the last couple of inches close to walls where the router stops.  Then I run a file flat across the top to make sure the strip is perfectly flush.

The top is applied almost in the same way. I’ve found the quickest way to glue the top pieces is to pour the contact cement directly from the can, and spread a thin  even coat with a pieces of scrap laminate, somewhat like a squeegee. Not only is this method quicker, it also can produce a much more even coat. Brushing large areas with contact cement can get a little tricky since it starts to dry immediately and begins to gum up on the surface. Once both surfaces are dry I place scrap strips of quarter round on the surface of the counter top before I place the laminate on top. This allow me to control how and when the two glued pieces make contact. Once the laminate is exactly where I want it I begin removing the quarter round strips one at a time and press the pieces together. Extra special care is required to butt the seam together.

Trimming the top is a little more difficult. One trick i have learned is to stick masking tape along the side of the cabinet where the trim bit roller bearing makes contact. This will prevent scarring by the bearing and also move the cutting blade a few millimeters away from the edge. It is possible that the trimmer blade will scar and remove potions of the laminate face if not very careful.

The final edge detail is done with a mill file. I prefer to use a course file to quickly take of the bulk of the remaining edge and finish with a finer mill file to create a smooth edge. I leave the tape on the edges until after filing the edges to help protect them. Careful attention must be take to exactly how much edge you are taking off and at what angle. You can easily remove the face of the laminate if not careful. Once the filing is done, remove the residual glue and tap with acetone and a soft cloth. I also like to use a counter top cleaner/polish to finish the job, however it is not requires

Splashing back

06th March 2011


I have designed 4 tile jobs in the past two years and helped with 2 others.  So, I think I’m getting some decent experience with tile and I love it.

Tile can change a look so dramatically and so fast!

This back splash was driving Dave crazy.  He just could not see my vision and how it would blend into this kitchen.

As you can see it turned out well.

Again it all goes back to planning, measuring, planning, mock ups and planning.

I think it all paid off.

Here is how the prep work goes.

I pre-cut as much as I can.  There are always special cuts you cannot make until you get there.

Spacers are so important.  Have plenty.

Grout and caulk come in so many colors now! You can use them as compliments to your design or to contrast.  I just love playing with the color options.

This is the last of the kitchen tile work.  We will move the air vent that is in the spot where the stove should be.

Here is the next project!  Can’t wait to get there!!!!!


07th March 2011


We are to the final stages of demolition on the interior of the house. The final demolition is on the the wood floor. Originally, the house had two floor furnaces on the first floor. When they added forced heat and air they simply framed the large opening for the smaller ducts and covered the holes with plywood and either carpeted or tiled over the the entire floor. Although the floor is not in good shape cosmetically, the good news is that the carpet and tile protected the wood from further wear. It appears that the floor had only been sanded one time after installation so there is plenty of wood left to refinish. The only two places were the wood floor is suspect is at the front door entry near the threshold, which is rotting, and at the top of the stairs in the hallway. The hallway between the bedrooms and bath is stained, cupped and uneven.  Hopefully with sanding and filling it will look fine, but that remains to be seen. We will deal with this if needed.

Since we needed to find some wood to patch the holes left by the furnaces and the entry was in bad shape near the frond door we decided to remove the flooring, cut out the rotted wood and use the slats to repair the holes. Removing the flooring is not difficult. I started by sawing down the center. This made it possible to pry up the mortised side of the slat, which in turn gave me enough room to separate the tenon side. This was the only slat that was completely wasted, but since all of the slats are interlocked I had no choice.

Once the first piece was out the process gets much easier. You want to pull from the nailed tenon end pry directly under the nails. this will minimize splintering and splitting of the slats. If there is a join you want pry on both sides of the joint. the joint will seperate cleanly and you can easily remove the slats.

One all of the slats were removed, I put down tar paper and 1/2 inch plywood subfloor and glued some walnut parquet flooring we had left over from a previous project.

The patching process is much more tedious. It’s not difficult just time consuming.To help hide the patch the joints need to be staggered. Typically the stagger should be random at least 12 inches. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough wood to go tho this extreme so i decided to stagger the joints much closer. We will see how it looks when finished. The first step is to mark a line perpendicular to the slat. I used a vibrating saw to make a plunge cut tilting the blade slightly forward. this slight angle will make it easier for the new piece to butt cleanly to the cut. Using a small chisel and hammer, I slid the cut piece out.

Installing the patch is pretty straight forward. Starting at the side with the tenon, I simply cut and blind nailed several places along the tenon on of each slat. The last slat I removed the bottom lip of the tenon and planed the width to fit the last slot. I then inserted the tenon side  and using a thin scraper on the mortise side to pry and help slide  the final piece into place. It’s ready fro sanding and finishing which we hope to get to next weekend.


FloorEd 101

21st March 2011


The first and and only time I have refinished a wood floor was over 10 years ago.  My memory was a little fuzzy on everything involved, but I at least had some idea of what to expect.  The first floor wasn’t perfect, but it looked OK. I hoped that the little bit of previous experience, better tools, and newer materials would lead to a more professional looking job.

I started by removing quarter round from the baseboard and sanded the entire perimeter of the house with 60 grit sand paper. This removed the old finish and minor imperfections easily.

Once this was done I rented a drum sander from Home Depot and sanded the field with 60 grit to remove the old finish and level the cupped boards and the floor furnace patches. Once this was accomplished I went over the entire floor again with 80 grit and returned the sander. I would rent it again a couple days later to do the final 100 grit sanding. The next step was to go back around the perimeter with 80 grit to blend in where the drum sander wouldn’t reach. It turned out that the drum sander wouldn’t reach in quite a few places. It was to big and bulky to do most of the closets, most of the upstairs hallway and the small area in front of the downstairs bath. The closets didn’t matter much since the doors are closed most of the time, but the hallways were some of the worst areas. I did the best I could with the large orbital sander, a small belt sander and a palm sander. The final results would turn out a little disappointing, but I just didn’t have the experience or tools required.

Once the entire floor was sanded, some major problems began to showing up. Where ever any tack strip nails came into contact with moisture it reacts with the high tannin content in oak and created dark black stains. These stains were especially bad around the baths and under windows. With a little research, I discovered that oxalic acid would remove some of this defect. Oxalic acid crystals are mixed with distilled water and brushed or mopped onto the floor. I applied six or seven coats to some of the worst areas. It didn’t remove all of the stains but it removed a lot.

It may be possible to completely remove the black stains, but I stopped after one afternoon of trying. One thing I discovered is you can’t spot clean a stain. It will leave a blotchy appearance if you do. The best way to avoid this is to mop the entire floor to even out the bleaching process.

Once satisfied the floor was as good as it was going to get,  I neutralized the oxalic wash with borax and water. This stops the bleaching process. If time and money weren’t a consideration I would have removed the entire floor in the upstairs hallway and replaced it with new oak. I could then recycle the best of those slats and patch all of the areas with the black marks in the rest of the house. The patches I made where the floor furnaces where turned out very nice, so it could have been done,

The next step was to fill all of the voids in the floor. Since this floor had so many, I used a trowelable red oak filler. Using a masonry trowel I spread the thinnest possible coat over the entire floor. I let it dry overnight and sanded it with 100 grit using the rented drum and orbital sanders. The filler seemed to work great.  It filled in all of the cracks, nail holes and dings in the floor. Time will tell how well it stays. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it work itself out as time goes by, but we will see. I’ll revisit this post next year some time and report how it is holding up.

Once the sanding was done, I swept, vacuumed, then wiped the entire surface with a damp rag. The sanding filler left a dust almost as fine as talc. It was quite a job to remove all the dust I had generated over the past week or two.

We decided to go with high gloss waterborne polyurethane. It is almost twice as expensive as the oil base, but it dries fast and you can do next coat in an hour or two, where oil base takes up to 24 hours between coats. I made a slight mistake with the type of applicator I used for the first coat. I used a natural lambs wool pad where I should have used a synthetic. The natural lambs wool holds much more finish than the synthetic so it goes on much thicker. Even using the correct technique to apply the finish, the finish was not 100% smooth. I let the first coat dry overnight and came back the next morning to sand the surface with a 220 grit screen. Using several scrap blocks of wood, I made a sanding pad with handle and stuck a small piece of carpet pad to it with double sided tape. The carpet pad held the screen nicely and I was able to screen the entire floor effectively in about an hour.

I don’t think I would do it this way again, but the thick first coat worked out very well. For the second and third coats I used the appropriate synthetic applicator. I actually used less poly on these two coats than I did on the first coat using the lambs wool. The second and third coats went on much thinner and much smoother also. A lot of the experts recommend sanding between the last two coats, but I didn’t have to. The first sanding was enough.

The final results were OK once again. Nowhere near perfect, but then this is DIY. I would expect a professional to do a much better job, however the cost saving was substantial (not including my labor). A pro would have charged me anywhere between $2100 and $3300. My costs were $300 for the rental equipment and sand paper, $200 for the poly urethane and another $50 or so for miscellaneous supplies. Add a week of hard labor and those savings disappear but considering actual cash spent only, the savings were substantial. Even cheap carpet and pad would have cost double what I spent, however the whole project would have been completed in a day. That is something to consider next time. At least I have the satisfaction of doing the floor refinishing myself. As far as the flaws and mistakes go, Carri says they give the floor character. I’ll leave it there, the floor has character.

Color me Happy!

03rd April 2011


Things are starting to come together.  Dave has been working like a Tasmanian Devil.  I helped a little bit with the paint, but he pretty much painted the whole house by himself.  I love how much brighter it is.  The existing color was neutral, but a bit gloomy.  It needed some cheering up!

The dining room really shows the compliments of the two new colors.

We still have ideas for finishing the fire place that are subject to change. The large travertine tiles are going to be the hearth.

The stair case has shown the most benefit from the lighter colors.  Even with the treads still needing work it looks so much better.

The den is still functioning as a work shop, but we should be getting it started soon.

Dave has been doing double duty.  Look for his reports on the removing the existing heat and air and repairing the plumbing, and duct work.

I felt like a contortionist mole working under the house in the crawlspace. It is not a very hospitable place to work. Rats and squirrels seemed to like the place though. One or both had stripped the insulation of the duct work and created several nests. I removed several rat carcasses and squirrel tails and other debris from the crawlspace and got to work. The work list included, fix 4 leaks in water pipes , insulate the floor, add vapor barrier, remove antiquated heat and air (HVAC), install and connect new HVAC.

Once the debris was removed I laid down a heavy sheet of plastic for a vapor barrier and added craft faced R13 fiberglass batts between the floor joists. Ideally I would have added another 6 inches of insulation and added foam board to the knee wall to fully insulate the crawlspace,but all of this can be added any time.

Next I started on the plumbing. While at Home Depot picking up plumbing supplies, a knowledgeable clerk suggested I try repairing the leaks with Pex tubing and Shark Bite connectors. The advantage of these product is that you don’t need glue or solder to install. You simply cut out the leaking areas and snap in the Shark Bite fix. This first fix replaced a cracked galvanized elbow. I had to replace this repair with a copper line due to a small leak. The short run of PEX between the 2 Shark Bite connectors was in s slight bind and would not allow the O-rings to seal properly. I used the Shark Bite to run a water supply to the refrigerator but that was the only place I ended up keeping this product. The rest of the leaks i repia4red by sweating in new copper tubing. Once the leaks were repaired I insulated the entire water line to try and keep the pipes from freezing in the future.

I think I’ll wait a few years to see how the Shark Bite water line to the refrigerator performs before I use the product again. In the short run water line repairs are a snap with this product. If the repairs are permanent it would be worth the added expense of this product. If the repairs don’t last it is a waste of time and money. I’ll hold judgment for the time being.

Upgrading the HVAC

20th May 2011


We were almost starting from scratch with the heat and air system. The AC compressor was gone (stolen), the furnace and AC coil housed in the crawlspace were antiquated, and the ducts were missing much of their insulation. The good news was that we could simply retrofit and new HVAC to the existing ducts with minimal changes. We also discovered that the Gas Meter had been recently relocated from the front of the house to the side. All new stainless steel flex gas lines were installed to the furnace and hot water heater. The old gas lines running to each room were left intact, although not hooked up to anything. I started by removing as much of these old lines as I could get to easily.

We decided to go with a packaged heat and air unit. The entire system would be located outside the crawlspace. The existing crawlspace access and concrete pad needed to be enlarged but that was an easy fix.
I used the existing concrete pad and poured and L-shaped extension to form the new pad. I extended the opening through the foundation 20 inches and framed the opening with 2×6 headers and filled the opening above the header with salvaged brick. The electric was already available so all that was required was a short extension to the gas line. There was enough salvaged gas line to accomplish this.

The real work involved supplying the air to the ducts. With the help of a friend who does AC work we came up with a great solution. The plan was to build a plenum out of duct board. From there we would use flexible ducts of various sizes to connect to the existing ducts. This would allow us to build everything out side the crawlspace. Duct board is a great product. You can use special tools to cut perfect miters and lap joints, but I used a regular box knife with great results. Using metal tape and duct starters, I had the plenum built in matter of an hour or two.

Hooking up the system was tedious and time consuming but it all went together just fine. One by one we ran flexible line from the plenum to each trunk line using flex duct.

10 inch line going to upstairs registers

12 inch lines connecting to HVAC unit outside

The final task was to rebuild the air return. Originally the air return was the entire space under the stairs. The previous installer simply cut a hole in the floor to accept the duct line and a filter cover on the wall in the living room. The problem was that the space under the stairs was not sealed very well. Not only would air be pulled through the filter, it would alos be pulled from countless other holes and leaks in this space. To solve the problem i created a box out of duct board and created a tightly sealed air return.

We finished off the HVAC installation by replacing and missing insulation on the old ducts and hooked up the gas electric and new thermostat. The new system worked perfectly first time. I was finally done working under the house. As long as i can keep rodents out and water line from freezing I shouldn’t have to return to the crawlspace for a long time.

On one of trips to the Mill Creek Lumber “bone yard” (overstock/returns store) Carri spotted a gas log fireplace insert at a very low price. Before I knew it, I was helping the store manager load the item into the back of Carri’s SUV. I didn’t want to spend any time or money working on the chimney, so it looked like the perfect solution for upgrading the fireplace. The insert was a direct vent unit so any chimney structural problems would not be a factor. I could simply knock out a hole on the back of the firebox and add a flue and cap on the back of the insert. In theory that was correct… in practice … well not so fast.

The insert turned out to be a little too big to simply slide into the existing firebox. It was about 2 inches too high and wide. The original tile hearth was poorly installed so I began by pulling it up. Before I was done the tile, subfloor, and first layer of firebrick on the base of the firebox was gone.after a few dry fits and grinding away the edges of the firebox opening, the fireplace was ready to rebuild.

After much consideration and debate “Carri” decided we would use travertine tiles for the hearth and surround with a to be decided accent. I began by framing the hearth opening, adding insulation, and new subfloor, and dry fit the travertine for the hearth. . My job was done. Time for Carri to do her decorating thing.

Carri took over tiling the surround and refurbishing the mantel. She started by finishing the surround with travertine and a decorative twist.

She compete the project by spending two weekend stripping the pealing paint from the mantel and repainting it with black enamel paint. The refurbished fireplace is the focal point of the living room.

Now for the rest of the story. The insert cost $150.00 which is a great deal. Unfortunately, the 18 inch length flue and termination cap to make it a functional fireplace would have cost another $600.00. Adding a blower would have been another $250.00. Once realized, that recurring voice in my head screamed out: “I can’t afford that.” To make a long story short. The fireplace at the moment is simply decorative. The rest can always be added later if I can ever get rid of that darn voice in my head.

The new den originally was a covered porch on the back of the house. The previous owner had closed it in, framed in a raised floor on top of the concrete slab but never completed the renovation. Raising the floor made the existing concrete steps too low and unusable. We decided to add a small deck on the back rather than just rebuild the steps from the door. I had a good idea of what I wanted to do with the deck, but as I began to dig the post holes, my plan began to change. The first two attempts at digging holes uncovered buried obstacles so I adjusted my plan at each obstacle. Before long I decided to just let the ground conditions, materials on hand, and my imagination dictate the shape of the deck.

Once I had the post set, I laid out a line on all post level with the top of the ledger board bolted onto the house. Using this line a a guide I notched out each post to accept the 2×6 joists around the perimeter.

Once the shell was built the decking went on quickly. The basic deck took less than an afteernoon to build. The steps and railing would take a little bit longer to complete.

The stairs consisted of a small deck landing one step down from the main deck. The stringer cut from 2 x 10’s were attached to the landing ti create the rest of the stair. The rail is constructed with 3/4 inch PVC and Pressure treated pine 2×4, with a cap made from the standard 1×4 decking. I extended the posts and wrapped them in decking to hid the joints. The entire project cost about $200.00. In the future I would like to add another level or 2 to the deck. But for now it is functional and useful.

Wrap it Up … It’s taken

21st November 2011


We actually finished this project in May of this year, but due to an abrupt job/career change and life in general, I haven’t had much time to complete this project blogging. Since I have a little time during the Thanksgiving Holiday, I will bring this story to a close. WE ended up renting this house for several reasons. Firstly, the short term capital gains on selling this property would eat up too great a percentage of the profits. Secondly, we erroneously thought that the market would not support a sale at this time. I say erroneously since the property just down the street, that we had passed on, sold for a very handsome profit. Anyway the renter has already expressed the desire to buy the property so in the end we will come out of this in great shape.

Let’s start with the finished project and back-track to where I left off.

The last three interior finish projects where the den, laundry/pantry, and bath. Finishing the den simply involved laying carpet. Carri found another great deal at the Mill Creek bone yard on a remnant of industrial carpet. It was the perfect choice for this application.

The pantry required a great deal of time and effort. I made a few initial executive decisions with Carri’s input. First, I decide that the wall where too far gone to try and repair the plaster, so the plaster had to go. A secondary benefit was that the open wall cavities would allow me to re-frame the existing large drafty window with a smaller double pane energy efficient model, and the open wall cavities would make it easy insulate and re-plumb the laundry. It was a long dirty job, but in the long run, the right decision.

Carri overruled me on the pantry floor. I originally thought that vinyl sheet flooring would be the way to go, but Carri disagreed and rightfully so. The cost between vinyl and big box store ceramic tile, on a per square foot basis is negligible. Vinyl would install a little more quickly, but the durability and look of tile made this an easy about face.

The final results where worth the effort. In the end we had a spacious laundry/pantry area that included a re-purposed kitchen cabinet. I took the pantry unit and added a couple of pieces of hardboard that I painted with blackboard paint. The cost difference between masonite hardboard and a quart of chalkboard paint compared to cabinet grade oak veneer plywood was substantial. It looked great and was definitely functional.

The bath had been redone already but we were unhappy with the quality of the work done on the tile. We stripped the tile to the accent strip and re-tile from there on up including the ceiling. We also replaced the two porcelain soap dishes with a niche built into the front of the shower. This gave the bath surrround a much more finsihed look.

The final touch for this project was to insulate the attic. In the past I have always used blown cellulose in the attic. This time I decided to try blown fiberglass. I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to install. Cellulose tend to clog easily in the blower. A great deal of time is lost unclogging the machine. There was no problem with the fiberglass. We installed 30 bags in about 90 minutes. Even though it is slightly more expensive, I will definitely continue to use this in the future.

That wraps up the Denver Street project. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun. Now that we have had a few months rest we are already preparing for our 2012 project. We will be renting out our current residence, the 2007 project, but first we will install a floating floor in the living room and add sliding doors to the closets. Once rented, we will begin on our “Dream House”. Looking forward to blog on this new project.

Rubble Garden

24th December 2017


Several years ago on one of our remodels, we had to replace the concrete driveway. We broke into large but manageable chunks to haul off. Instead of hauling it off to a dump, I put an add in Craigslist ‘Free Concrete.’ I had 2 people come buy and load up the back of their pickups with a couple of loads. One said he wanted it to stop the erosion on his dirt drive. The other said he wanted it for stepping stones to one of his out buildings. I also got a few very strange calls checking to see if the craigslist ad was legit. A couple thought it was joke so I explained the possible uses. It turned out we had made an afternoon feature on a local radio show contest for funny and unbelievable craigslist add people post. The joke was we were just trying to get someone to haul off our debris for free. We were winning for most of the afternoon until someone submitted a post for free ‘Maple leaves, Baggged or Free Range’. In the end, I hauled off most of the drive to a house that was asking for free dirt and fill materials.

Once again, I had to break up a large concrete slab in the back yard of one or our renos. Rather than haul it to the off I decided to use it for edging along the back yard for a garden.







I used as much of the concrete as possible for the garden edging, and a bit more for a path along the back of the house leading to the deck. Even then 8 trailer loads were hauled  to the concrete recycler.  Not sure I would do this again but it was an interesting project