Monday, July 12, 2010

An Overflowing Closet

Now, I'm not saying I have a lot of stuff in my closet, it's just that it's chock full of my and Wino's clothes, shoes that don't have proper homes, boxes still waiting to be unpacked (sadly) and a sundry of items stuffed onto the upper shelves because I honestly have no idea where else to put them. Add that even though we are in the master bedroom now, our clothes are still in the guest room closet, which is half the size. I really want to start the floor in the guest room but the closet must be cleared first.

So installing the master closet must be done. It's not a terribly big closet, seven+ feet long, and the easiest thing to do would be a shelf and a rod, going from one wall to the other. That's what was there before but as I do enjoy torturing myself from time to time, I designed a closet that will give homes to homeless shoes, separate Wino's clothes from mine, and have space for those untouched boxes and random items. Did I mention that the attic opening happens to be in this closet so access to it must be maintained? And although I appreciate the effort made when the previous owners put a light in the closet, it's to one side and illuminates only half the space.

The access to the attic is being maintained through a combination of removable rods, folding shelves on hinges and step cutouts strategically placed. I've basically created a permanent ladder to access the attic. This is the MacGyver of closets. Of course it will take an hour to remove all the crap on the shelves and rods to get to the opening but it's possible, and that's what counts.

I've added four drawers under the center rod, this acts as a step up and adds much needed drawer space. There are two rods on one side for short items like shirts and pants, a center rod for medium length items and a single rod on the other side for long articles of clothing. The clothing rods are separated by skinny shelves that will house shoes, one side also acts as the step ladder for the attic. The upper part of the closet is a collection of shelves and cubbies for more shoes.

The easiest way I've found to start any project like this is to map the space to scale on graph paper and draw in different configurations. There are also free programs online that help to do this but I'm a bit old school when it comes to planning and find it easier to visualize on paper. Then I also have a tangible plan to work from and adjust while in the process of building the components.

The next step is to break up the design into pieces and build them in the right order to make the closet go together easily. Wish me luck.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Hmmm, Glazing, Yum

No, not that kind of glazing. I'm talking window glazing putty. That nasty crumbly stuff on the outside of old windows that is supposed to be holding the glass in but really is just catching dirt and rain and making your house look trashy. My first battle with ancient glazing putty was in CA with ten, yes ten, double hung windows in the back bedroom that were painted shut but somehow still rattled in wind -it was the glass moving in the frame since there was very little putty to hold the glass tight. In truth, little metal pieces called glazier's points are what actually hold the glass in, the glazing putty is there to help the window shed water and to make the sash look nice. There's also a term "double glazing" which means there are two panes of glass but that is usually held in the sash (or frame) by trim, being metal, vinyl or wood. The great thing about a single glazed window is that if it breaks, it's easy to fix, just pull out the broken glass and the old putty and install a new sheet of glass with glazing points and reputty the outside. I haven't figured out how to fix a broken double glazed window pane yet. During Hurricane Ike, only one window in our house cracked, the double glazed bathroom window. The 90 year old glass in the rest of the house held up fine. I just left it cracked. So many years ago when I was rehabbing the ten windows, I had to figure out how to reglaze windows. Dap makes a great product that I now use after experimenting with other glazing putty products. This product comes in a caulking tube and is dispensed using a caulking gun. Someone really skilled, in theory, should be able to lay the putty in perfectly right from the tube with no need to model it at all. After reglazing over 30 windows in the last 9 years I still need to work the putty once it's applied. There's another product that comes in a quart paint tin that I found hard to use, you have to work it into a thick rope with your hands then press it into the glazing channel. I didn't like it and have used the Dap glazing caulk ever since.

Our current house has all double glazed windows but I found myself restoring a very old door to use on the chicken coop that had a glass 12 light panel inset. Most of the glazing putty was gone but thankfully the glass panes were not broken. The old style glazing points, which are either diamond or triangle in shape and flat, sharp metal were mostly still holding the glass in but I did put in some new
glazier's points just to be sure. One of the most important things when reglazing a window, which can be done with the window sash still installed on the house, is to remove all of the accumulated dirt in the glazing channel so when primed, it sticks and seals. Here's the simple steps to reglazing a window: 1) remove all of the loose, old glazing putty, being careful not to chip the glass. Do the whole window once, take a break then come back to it and you'll find more loose stuff. Remove it all. Any that seems really secure can be left, usually the top edge of the glass since this rarely sees water damage. 2) clean out the dirt and crumbles of putty. This can be a challenge along the bottom edge that gets the most wear. I'll scrape it then go back with a small wire brush to loosen the dirt. Vacuum up the dirt dust and debris with a shop vac, making sure the whole channel is clean. Do not use water to clean unpainted wood. 3) paint primer in the channel where the putty will go. I usually prime the whole window at this point. Don't worry about getting primer on the glass, it'll scrape off later.
4) apply the glazing putty or caulk. Be patient! I use a tool (in the picture) to smooth the putty to a nice angle that will shed water. Use a wet finger to smooth where the tool overlaps the putty and creates a bump or drag mark. Leave any excess putty on the window as long as it's not touching the glazing putty that was just applied. It'll harden and be scraped off later. 5) after about 3 days, the glazing putty is hardened so it can be trimmed if needed, like if there's a bump or tool mark. Use a sharp razor blade for this. A sharp box cutter held at an angle also works but keep enough material to ensure shedding of water. Once satisfied with how it looks, it can then be painted with the top coat. I've had situations where I forgot to paint the window after the new glazing putty is in and it makes more work since you then have to clean what you applied of the dirt and dust collected on it before painting (it stays a little tacky so it collects dirt fast).

With a little practice and development of technique, the exterior of vintage windows can look new and be more efficient, or new life can be given to an old door headed for the scrap pile.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Aren't Ceiling Fans Supposed to be Easy?

I'll admit it, I'm guilty of perpetrating this lie, and I've had it perpetrated on me. Ceiling fans are easy to install. Really, they are, in a perfect world, with the perfect house and the perfect fan. I've made that comment "Oh, you could put a nice fan where that ceiling light is, it'd look great! It's easy, you could do it in less than an hour". Why do I keep saying this to people when I know it to be untrue? Because I want to believe. I've installed numerous ceiling light fixtures and ceiling fans, and very few were zip-zap-done (as Wino says). Here's the basic zip-zap steps: 1) turn off the power at the breaker, not just the switch! 2) remove the existing fixture. 3) install the new base plate. 4) hang the motor and connect the wires. 5) install the housing cover, blades and light kit. 6) turn the power back on! Voila!

But this is how the ceiling fan install went in the master bedroom: 1) turn off power, ok, that was actually easy because I already knew which breaker it was. 2) remove existing fan. pretty easy, just awkward, and I had to be good and save all the bit and pieces since I'm giving it away to be reinstalled elsewhere. 3) install new base plate. Well, this fan has a massive base plate since it's a flush mount and covers the motor housing. That's all fine and good but the electric box installed in the ceiling is crooked and tilts down 1/4" past the drywall on one side. With the base plate installed, that edge hanging down becomes a 1" gap. So I remove base plate then the electric box to investigate. The hanging plate is installed quite securely to a beam spanning the joists. I decide it'll be easier to cut the hard plastic electric box. Down to the garage, attach a block of wood to the end of the box so I've got something to keep my fingers safe. I drew a line and cut about 3/8" off the front with a chop saw. Reinstalled the box then reinstalled the base plate. Phew! 4) hang motor and connect wires. This one is easy, there's plenty of wire coming from the ceiling (not always the case) and it's 14/3 meaning it's a little thinner, easier to manipulate and there's two "hot" wires, red and black, one for the light and one for the fan. With the wiring done, the motor was to be installed next. I pushed it into place but, WTF, the screws for the base plate are too long and prevent the motor from being screwed to the base tightly. Unacceptable. Undid step 4. Found a little hacksaw in the tool box and proceeded to cut 1/8" (yup) off the bottom of the screws. Remember, I'm using the footboard of the bed frame as a ladder and have little resistance while trying to saw off the screws that were quite close to the ceiling already. Grrr! At this point I made an executive decision to take a break and run errands. On my return, steps 4, 5 and 6 went as expected although it did take longer than I thought it would. The instructions on this fan were actually really good but the illustrations of the install steps were dark, indecipherable photos and useless.

Installing a ceiling fan/light is easy, really it is. The challenge is fixing the work of those who have gone before you. Even a new house has no guarantees about what's under and behind fixtures but the good news is, with patience, a few trips to the hardware store and some problem solving creativity, that ceiling fan will go up and look beautiful.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Another Beautiful Door

The bathroom door turned out so well, I was inspired to get the master bedroom door finished too. Now that the floor is finished and the baseboard in and painted, Wino was itching to move our bed and furniture into the larger room and have a little breathing space. I wanted the door done prior to moving in but I could not deny the boy his space. He worked very hard on the floor and deserved to not be delayed any longer. So down came the door and I spent 2 full days cutting, sanding, patching, fabricating trim, and painting. There was a lovely surprise when I removed the full length mirror mounted to the back of the door. The previous owners must have had some anger issues because there were two nice holes in the door, cleverly covered by the mirror. That's the problem with hollow core doors. One tantrum and you're mounting mirrors to hide sins. I was glad to repair the door, and actually one of the cut-outs eliminated the top hole.

Starting with the design of the bathroom door, I modified it for privacy, reusing the cutouts as solid recess panels. Since our hall is a bit dark, I decided to make the top panel the glass and plastic that I used on the bath door. You really can't see through it but it lets in a little bit of light to make the hall less dank. The other two bedroom doors will be done the same way, which will brighten the hall even more. I ended up rehanging the door before it was fully painted since we were having company and I wanted to have a door on our bedroom. In the future, I hope to have the luxury of painting the doors fully before they get reinstalled. With the handleset installed, new floor, color on the walls and the ceiling painted white, the room now looks like what I imagine the rest of the house will hopefully be.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Master Bedroom Floor, Fin

After ripping out the crappy underlayment in the master bedroom and assessing the height of the floor, we decided to lay a 3/4" subfloor before continuing with the bamboo (instead of the 1/2" we had planned on). There was a subfloor of 1/2" plywood that was sagging in well travelled areas, like near the door and from the door to the bathroom door. It was really bad which is why we went with the thicker plywood. The trick with laying the new plywood is to make sure none of the seams are within 6"-12" of seams in the old floor being covered. I could tell where they started when they laid the original sub-floor so we started in the opposite corner with a full sheet and that seemed to stagger the seams just right. One thing that made the whole project just that much more annoying was the supplies in the room that had to be moved from side to side, as we finished the subfloor, then the bamboo floor. There wasn't any other place to put the seven flooring cartons and shop vac, and the compressor for the nailer needed to be in the room too.

I thought we could use the framing nailer that we already owned and wasted a good few hours trying to make it work on a scrap in the garage. I finally gave up, the pressure was not enough to get the head of the nail all the way in the tongue, no matter what angle I put the gun at. The bamboo was too dense. I found a flooring nailer at a local rental place and reserved it for Saturday afternoon. Here's the trick with renting on a weekend- rent from a local place that's closed on Sundays, then you get the tool from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning for the cost of one day. If I had rented from HD or Lowes, I would have only gotten it for 24 hours. I brought a piece of the flooring to the rental store to make sure the tool came with the correct "shoe" and asked the tech to set it up for me. He was basically useless. He took it in the back to where they had an air compressor. After 15 minutes, I looked through the glass in the door, there were 6 employees standing around the nailer and my bamboo, some actually scratching their heads. That should have been a clue. We got the nailer home and Wino started by setting it up and practicing on scrap flooring while I face-nailed the first row. The first row is set on a chalk line with 1/2" gap to the wall for expansion. It's then face-nailed about 1/2" in from the edge. We pre-drilled the holes for the nails and discovered that we also needed to pre-drill (with a larger bit) the countersinks for the nail heads. The bamboo was that hard. The tongue side is then nailed down, pre-drilling at a 45 degree angle to hide the nail. Once the first row was in, the subsequent rows were installed using the nailer. There were some issues, for example, the rental guy said to hit the trigger for the gun really hard to get the nail in (this seemed wrong to me since it's air-driven, but I'm just a girl) so Wino was hitting it really hard and the whole tool would bounce back and the nail would end up not where it's supposed to be. The shoe that the rental guy put on the gun was a little worn and wouldn't always sit in the right place, also putting the nail in the wrong place. The bamboo had some hard spots where the nails would curve and come up through the top of the board. We thought we were hitting nails in the subfloor but I had the joists marked and it should have been clear. Then I noticed the tarpaper laid underneath didn't have a hole in it from the nail. There was nothing to do about the curving nails except take the board out and try another one. The other issues got sorted out. Wino decided to try a different shoe on the gun which worked 100 times better. And he stopped hitting it with so much force and started stepping on the back part to stabilize it. This took all of Saturday afternoon and a bit of Sunday morning. On the first few rows we had a little problem getting the flooring to sit snug up against the other rows. I'm not sure if it was a bum board or my first row install but I got a killer upper thigh workout pushing the boards into place while Wino nailed them down. Once we passed that and hit the plateau in the learning curve, things moved along well. I laid and tapped the flooring boards into place and Wino nailed them down, placing boards when I was in the garage cutting the end boards.
We had a nice rhythm going. At about 5 pm, we got to the place where the nailer was too close to the wall to use so the last 3 rows were nailed in by hand by me the next morning, after returning the nail gun. To finish the floor between the bedroom and bathroom, I needed to get creative with some scrap of the flooring and made this threshold piece. It's finish-nailed in and sealed with oil based satin polyurethane. The floor now looks beautiful and feels even better when walked on, and the annoying squaw-squeek in the middle of the floor is gone!

There are two more bedrooms and the hall/foyer to complete but now that we've got the learning curve on the tool, I'm hopeful things will go smoother and quicker. I'll rent the same flooring nailer from the same place, but I won't trust the rental guy to have a clue regarding what he's renting out.

A Fowl Weekend

Sometimes having a deadline doesn't always work, as illustrated by my dilapidated chicken coop in the yard and the 26 chicks and 3 ducklings in the garden shed. Knowing that for at least the first four weeks of their lives with me the chickens would be in a brooder, staying warm and practicing the scratch-and-peck technique mastered by so many before them, I focused on other more pressing projects and the coop has remained untouched. A few days ago Wino and I were given two great vintage doors that will go on the coop. They need to be stripped, patched, trimmed to fit and painted. In my mind I was waiting on the doors because that would give me the design for the rest of the coop. Well, no procrastinating now!

We picked up the chicks at the farm store on Friday. It was crazy when we walked in because they had temporary brooders with heat lamps set up throughout the store- it's not a big place to begin with. There were hundreds of chicks, all chirping.
Usually there's only one or two other people in the store but it was packed that day, not only with people picking up chicks, geese, or ducks, but with mothers who brought their children to watch the chicks and play with them. And a local farmer had set up in front of the attached house to sell veggie and herb seedlings. It was crazy!

The chicks and ducklings are in a brooder made of a recycled compost fence for the walls, cardboard to keep out drafts, quilts laid over the top to keep in the heat, and shredded paper to soak up their droppings. They have a heat pad and a heat lamp. The brooder needs to be kept at about 95 degrees for the first week and 5 degrees less every week until the outside temp matches the inside one. On the first night, we thought they would be fine without anything covering the corral since it was 95 degrees in the shed itself during the day. When I went out to check on them they didn't scatter when I reached in to pick one up. I thought I had gotten some really friendly chickens! Not so, the temp had dropped and they were lethargic. Oops! Some quilts
to keep in the heat and a different bulb in the lamp and they're scootin' around like crazies, jumping on each other. The chicks like to jump on the backs of the ducklings and ride them around. It's quite entertaining. Our town limits the number of farm animals residents can keep based on acreage and zoning. We are allowed 12 fowl so half of the chicks and the all the ducks are going to my Mom. She lives on a lake and the ducks will have a good life but I would keep them in a heartbeat- they are so cute!

I've been asked a few times why I want chickens and it's not just for the eggs. Now, the eggs are the main reason since "pasture fed" eggs have been tested to be high in the good stuff (omega 3 etc) and low in the bad stuff (cholesterol, fats) and it's really hard to find eggs labeled "pasture fed", outside of a true farmers market. This doesn't mean free range or cage free, both of those are arbitrary to the farmer- to label eggs "free range", the farmer only has to provide access to the outside, whether the birds actually go outside doesn't matter. And cage free just means they are all packed into huge coops, often with their beaks trimmed off so they don't fight and injure each other. "Pasture fed" means a portion of their daily food comes from foraging for bugs and seeds in the outdoors. This is where my other reason for having chickens comes in. They eat bugs. They dig up grubs that eat the roots of plants.
They eat ticks and fleas and beetles. They love ant eggs which cuts down on the population of ants. They eat slugs and snails. They eat flying insect eggs that are in grass, reducing the insects around the house. When moved around the yard, they leave behind healthier grass with less weeds since they eat seeds too. They eat a lot of the food garbage that we put in the compost since we can't put it down the sink, like the stalks of broccoli (shredded) and apple and veggie peels. Since they scratch and dig for their food, they turn the top layer of soil, aerating and making it healthier. This is also the reason they shouldn't be confined to one area, they'll overwork it and it becomes a muddy mess. They stay close, usually the boundaries of a yard and can be trained to come when called (with the sound of a treat shaken in a jar), they put themselves to bed in the evening, relying on their humans to close the coop door and make them safe. As I've said before, this is an experiment, hopefully all of the things I've read and been told by other backyard chicken farmers will be true in my yard and I'll not only have delicious eggs every day, but a healthier yard without spraying chemicals.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Master Bedroom Floor is Started!!

Yes, we are finally moving into the latter stages of the master redo. The bath is 90% there and Wino is itching to get into the (slightly) bigger bedroom. A few weeks ago, I had decided on a carbonized strand woven bamboo for the floors on the bedroom level. Here's my logic- I needed a wood floor that could withstand 48 dog nails tearing around, I wanted something renewable and prefinished. Solid as opposed to engineered, but stable through humidity changes. This bamboo had everything. The strand woven bamboo is twice as hard as oak and three times more stable. If it's carbonized, the color is a warm brown that goes all the way through (they heat the bamboo and caramelize the sugars in the wood). The strand has a nice color variation that makes it look a little more like tradition hardwood too. I had decided on this product but hadn't found the price I wanted. Looking online means factoring in shipping which can get very expensive. It's a better price per sqft but with shipping, well, it's a challenge. Wino said 'let's get it!' so I got online and it happened to be Earth Week and many home improvement suppliers were having eco-friendly sales. I find the bamboo I want at 60% off (I had looked at this online store before and it really was 60% off the price they usually sold it at) plus free shipping! That's huge because the shipping cost should have been $420. So I bit the bullet and ordered the floor, not just for the bedroom but for that whole level it was such a great price, hoping the boxes would be light enough to put into my car to drive up the driveway since freight carriers only do curbside delivery.

No such luck on the weight of the boxes. They weight about 80 lbs, are over 6' long and awkward as hell. The freight truck shows up as they are replacing the guardrail on our street right in front of the driveway and have one lane blocked off. He's now blocking half of the remaining lane. The driver has the wrong phone # on his form and can't get a hold of me so he finds my neighbor at the bottom of the hill. Jim drives up to get me, chuckling about the situation. He graciously offers to get his dump truck (he's a landscaper) from a worksite close by to load the flooring cartons (22!). So we're blocking the street for about 45 minutes, the township workers are shooting daggers at me with their eyes, and the driver's forklift won't work to move the pallet of flooring to the end of the truck. It was a bit of a mess but with much help from my neighbor, we were able to get all of my new flooring into the garage.

Wino had the pleasure of moving seven cartons into the master bedroom to "stabilize to the humidity of the room prior to installation". He moved the rest over the next few days into the office (because there isn't enough stuff in there already) just to get it out of the garage. Having it in the way in the house is also a form of psychological warfare- we're more likely to be motivated about installing it if it's constantly in the way. At least that's what I tell myself. Next step- subfloor.