Home Improvement

Long Slow Remodel: Flooring Begins

Today I began the work to tear out hardwood flooring so we can lay down LVP instead. I was pleased to discover that I’m going to be able to salvage the hardwood planks so they can be donated to habitat for humanity.

Being able to donate the planks makes me feel better about pulling up good hardwood. Why am I tearing it out if it is still good? Many reasons. The first being that not all the wood is good. There are places where water damage has warped boards. The wood next to the door where water leaks in has begun to show signs of dry rot. Second, we’ve already got areas where there are holes in the flooring. Most notably the spot where we removed a closet to install a railing instead.

You can also see spots where the wood was removed to make space for the railing.

While it is possible to patch these sort of things, the reality of doing so is exceedingly tricky. Also there is the fact that we’re planning on removing a superfluous wall which will create an even larger and more visible gap in the flooring. On top of the existing damage, our experience with floods and hardwood floor maintenance has led us to conclude that our family will be better served with a different material on the floor. Hopefully I’ll get to show you the stuff we’re installing soon. For now, here is the space that I’ve cleared so we can install flooring and then cabinets.

A Tour of House Projects in Progress

After last summer’s detour into flood damage repair, this year I’m back to working on the house projects I want to get done. Because of financial and time constraints, the projects move slowly, however the life shifts around pandemic have me needing hands-busy-not-too-thinky tasks. Home improvement fills that need nicely. Progress has been made.

The largest and most ongoing project is our Long Slow Remodel of our kitchen. The current goal is to get rid of that wall in the middle before November launches the holiday season.

The next step is to waiting on flooring to arrive. I have to tear out flooring in front of this wall, lay new flooring, and then we can install a pantry wall with a secondary sink. (The plumbing for the sink was installed spring of 2019.) We’ll live with a patch of mis-matched flooring while we take a bunch of other steps like new counter tops, wall removal, re-wiring the location of the fridge, etc.

I already have the cabinets which will go on the pantry wall. They’re waiting out in my garage.

We had paused the kitchen remodel because purchasing flooring is a big spend and I was worried about finances. But we think that re-configuring our kitchen to match the way that our brains work will help Howard in his quest to improve his health. So we’re moving forward. During the pause I was in need of projects, and my son was also in need of things to do, so we decided to put a patio in the dirt patch that used to be under our deck that we had to demolish because it had rotted. (Deck demolishing Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) Here is what the patch looked like in 2014 after we removed the deck:

This is how the dirt patch spent most of the intervening years: Covered in leaf piles and various other detritus.

This is the current state of the dirt patch, which is well on its way to becoming a patio. We used the wheelbarrow to haul excavated dirt to a large (and growing larger) pile of dirt in the corner of the yard. I’m thinking we’ll use some of it to fill raised garden beds. Hopefully we’ll do that faster than the six years it took us to move from dirt patch to patio. The pile of sand on the tarp was salvaged from an old sandbox which we disassembled in early spring of 2019. We’re using it in the laying of pavers, but the size of the pile suggests that we’ll have some left over for other projects later. Process is dig, remove tree roots, level dirt, lay landscape cloth, layer gravel, layer sand, place each paver carefully using a level. At the end I’ll use polymeric sand to seal everything into place.

While hauling dirt to our big pile, I noticed that one of our pine trees had been so overtaken by wisteria vines that it was in danger of dying. I cut the vines to give the tree a chance. Unfortunately that created this situation:

Instead of having a wall of green, there is a wall of dead. Dried, crispy dead just waiting for a spark to turn the whole mess into a massive torch. Particularly since the underside of all that dead wisteria looks like this:

So in between digging and laying pavers, I’m taking time to cut back and remove all of the dead from this tree. I’m also raking up a decade of dead pine needles and wisteria leaves from the ground. I’ll probably need a young, nimble person to get on a ladder or climb the tree to help me get some of the dead vines removed. Bit by bit it is getting less hazardous.

Not a hazard, but definitely an eyesore is this weedy patch which flanks the other side of my small deck. It used to be raised garden beds framed by railroad ties. Then we realized that all the terrible chemicals from the railroad ties would leach into the soil, and be taken into the food plants. We pulled the railroad ties, which left a couple of mounds. Then life got busy and the mounds went to weeds. Since there were mounds, we couldn’t just mow them. So in order to get this spot under control we need to clear the weeds and level the ground, or reinstall garden beds. I’m considering making this spot into a patio too or we could return it to being lawn, which is what it was before very-young me decided to make it raised garden beds. This project is on the list, but I doubt we’ll get to it this year.

Last, but not least urgent, are the front flower beds which have reached their usual state of July disarray. Weeds need to be pulled, plants need to be cut back. I need to fertilize to give all of it a chance of being pretty again in the fall and next spring.

Owning a house is a lot of work if you want to keep the house in good condition. I’ve lived in this house and tended to it for over twenty years now. Some of my current projects are me correcting my own past errors (railroad garden beds,) some are me fighting the natural entropy of living things trying to take over (tree rescue, weeds,) and some are me correcting long-standing problems (removing that wall in the kitchen.) It is a good thing I like having projects.

Making a Small Corner Prettier

This is how the corner of my bathroom used to look two weeks ago:

This is how that corner looks today:

The change over took a couple hundred dollars in supplies (window cling film, boards, varnish, paint, caulk) and about five hours of work broken into little segments. The end result is that I now have a place to display these vases that I got from my Grandma. She loved them dearly and I’m glad to have them where they can catch the light instead of being hidden away in a box.

It is nice to have a measurable accomplishment when so many other things feel discouraging or stagnant. Particularly since this project also felt stagnant for large portions of the time I was working on it. Projects do that sometimes, but small efforts add up. Then eventually you have something that didn’t exist before.

Prepping for Home Improvement…Again

After a summer of offices moved into living spaces, speed installation of drywall and flooring, then returning offices to their original homes, we were all ready to have life be calmer for a while. I decided to halt all house projects until after I returned from the Writing Excuses Workshop and Retreat. I figured that would buy us five weeks of relative calm. The dishwasher vetoed this plan and instead chose to leak underneath hardwood flooring a mere three days before my departure. We had to yank out the machine, turn on fans, and tell the kids they were hand washing dishes while we were gone.

It turned out the dishwasher wasn’t entirely to blame, a leaky valve contributed to the problem. This was discovered by my kids while I was away. They solved the problem with a bucket that they emptied regularly. Upon my return, I summoned the plumber once again, and paid to have plumbing fixed. For those keeping count, the plumber has been to my house for urgent repairs six times in the past five months. Six. I’ve begun to question the whole idea of indoor plumbing.

Here is the buckling on the hardwood floor, that light reflection should be a smooth circle, not broken up like it is reflecting off of waves. Which it is. Because my floor is all wavy now.

We’ll be living with the wavy floor for a while. I’m still trying to pay for the mess downstairs and can’t spend resources to fix a cosmetic problem like this one. The gaps between boards are also water damage.

Replacing the hardwood with vinyl plank was already part of the kitchen remodel plan. All of which is on hold until I finish the repairs downstairs. The last, giant, piece of downstairs repair is that we have to remove all of the carpet from the family room and replace it with vinyl plank.

It is not a small room and we use it every day. Having it torn up is going to be seriously disruptive. Once I start I want to get the job finished inside a week. I think I can, even though I’ll be laying the floor by myself. The adventure begins in earnest later this week.

Post Script: A listing of the six plumber visits.
1. Disposal under kitchen sink failed and was actively leaking under the sink.
2. Dryer died and we decided to do the plumbing adjustment for the secondary sink in our planned kitchen remodel. If we’d known about the coming things, we would have put this off. At the time it felt urgent to get it done while we were moving the dryer anyway.
3. Downstairs toilet was clogged so badly we ended up replacing two toilets and discovering a major issue with the sewer line, ripping out flooring in three rooms, and flood cutting walls in two rooms.
4. Putting back the downstairs toilet and sink once the room was reconstructed.
5. The downstairs shower needed a new cartridge so that it could have hot water as well as cold. This felt urgent because I needed to be sure that the hot water wasn’t leaking inside the wall somewhere.
6. Replacing a valve under the kitchen sink that was dripping water down the dishwasher intake line at the rate of a gallon per day.

Edited to add: As of 10/8/19 we’re now up to seven visits from the plumber. We had him back today to install the new dishwasher when the Home Depot install team completely failed to do their job.

Long Slow Remodel: Weeks 5-7

Week five was the eventful week, we got the cupboards onto the wall. Because of the way we wanted the cupboards arranged and where the wall studs were placed, we started by putting up planks and then mounted the cupboards to the planks.

Milo was very interested in this process and helped out by inspecting things. Also by pretending to be a gargoyle.

Here are the cabinets completely mounted. Not yet installed: the knobs on the cupboards and more hooks for hanging jackets underneath the cupboards.

Things slowed down quite a lot in weeks 6 & 7. We were kind of taking a breather between projects. Also there were a lot of family events and business tasks which needed our attention. However we did order the final piece that will help complete the entry area: a bench.

We ordered it unfinished so that we could make it match the cabinets. We intend to cut it shorter so that it is a low bench intended to allow people to easily sit and put on their shoes. Loose shoes will live underneath the bench since I’m a person who kicks off her shoes when entering the house. (Howard is a shoes-on person.)

The next phase of the project will be building a pantry wall across from the cooking area. It will be on this big blank wall.

We’ve drawn up a rough plan for what we want to do. There will still be some shuffling around of cupboards, but this is the general idea.

Bit by bit we’ll get this done. Current focus, shuffling funds around to enable us to pay for the next purchase of cupboards.

Long Slow Remodel: Week 4

This week most of the progress happened in Howard’s office where this space:

Was turned into this space:

We called these our “test cupboards” we were learning the process of finishing the cupboards and experimenting with hanging them. That way we made most of our mistakes on cupboards that will not be on public display the moment people enter the house.

With Howard’s cupboards looking spiffy, I turned our garage into a full workshop and worked on the front room cupboards.

As of today, the boxes for the cupboards were ready, so we stacked them in the front room to help us visualize how it would go. Milo helped inspect. Picture this arrangement about four to five feet higher up on the wall with shelves in the gaps between cupboards.

Stacking and visualizing turned out to be really smart. We identified a problem. The spacing of those upright cupboards is such that it is impossible to attach all of them to studs simultaneously. We came up with a plan where we’re using planks behind the cupboards as additional support and to create a sort of framing structure. We also realized that our intended height would make most of the cupboards hard to access. but hanging the cupboards lower would cause a problem hanging some of our long coats on hooks below the cupboards. That was when we came up with this arrangement, which we like way better. The upright gap will still have shelves. The open bottom gap will house coats.

So now I’ve got planks to stain, side panels to stain and doors to finish varnishing. Oh, and there is crown molding that I also need to stain. The good news is that I enjoy painting stain and varnish on wood. So the project is being fun.

Long Slow Remodel: Week 3

This was a week without much photographable progress. And yet, Howard figured out the method and supplies he’ll need to install the in-cabinet lighting. I completely varnished and shined all the cabinets for Howard’s office. Then I sanded and prepped all six cabinets for the front room. The project is underfoot in a dozen different ways, but we’re learning a lot and hopefully by next week we’ll have all the cabinets up in Howard’s office.

Long Slow Remodel: Week 2

Progress was slowed down this week by stain colors. After carefully testing and deciding on a color, I discovered that one of the colors we picked wasn’t readily available. We apparently bought the only pint size can available at the store and quarts were going for $40 or more online. (Retail price on quarts for this brand $8). I tried having a paint store mix the color, but it didn’t match at all. So we back tracked and picked a more readily available color.

But now we have three more cabinets stained and partially varnished. Staining happens in our front room.

The varnish/lacquer is really smelly and so it has to happen out in our garage, which I’ve turned into a workshop for the duration of this project. Unfortunately, this means we do quite a bit of waiting for the weather to be warm enough so I can work. The lacquer doesn’t soak into the wood or cure correctly if the temperatures are below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

So, not much visible progress this week. But Howard has ordered the pieces for him to install interior lighting into the cabinets. This first batch of cabinets is destined for Howard’s office. The next batch is six cabinets and will go into the front room. I can start on that batch as soon as this batch is completed. prepping the next batch requires sanding and I can’t have tiny wood particles landing in wet stain or lacquer.

Long Slow Remodel: Preliminary & Week 1

We’ve been working on a remodel for years now. Six years ago, I repainted the front room. In 2016 I tore out a front closet and we stared at bare studs for 18 months. Last summer we finally put in the railing we’d been dreaming of. This summer we’ll be putting in work staining unfinished cabinets and installing them. Bit by bit we are going to transform our front room space. The goal is to get rid of that pantry wall in the middle of the room.

It will be replaced with an island counter. But before we can tear down the wall, we have to create new homes for all the food that currently lives in that pantry. We’ll be creating a pantry wall on the other side of the kitchen. But before we’re ready to put in those cabinets, we wanted to test and make sure that we can actually do this cabinet staining and installing ourselves. So we’re beginning with installing a painting table and cabinets in Howard’s office, and also installing cabinets and coat hooks in the entry area.

We ordered cabinets and they arrived a couple of weeks ago. Since then we’ve been test staining to make sure we can match the color of the railing.

Howard and Keliana picked a piece of plywood with beautiful patterns to be the table top for the office painting station. On the floor you can see the outline of where we removed the closet.

We’ve decided on a two-tone look for the cabinets. This is our test cabinet. For the remaining cabinets the base will also be the lighter color so that the doors look like picture frames. We have some ideas about decorative things to do with those frames.

Up next, pulling doors off of 11 more cabinets so that they can be sanded and stained. I’ve also got a window sill to assemble and stain. Now if only the weather would cooperate and warm up. Wood doesn’t stain well if it is below 60% so right now we’re having to bring things indoors to stain. It’ll be a lot faster when the garage is a good staining temperature and we can assembly line the work.

So that’s where we are with the project this week. My hope is that we can have that pantry wall gone by the end of the summer.

Remodeling and Responsibility

We’re having an expensive week here at Chez Tayler. We finally called in a plumber because we got tired of an ever-filling bucket of garbage disposal water accumulating under the sink. While the plumber was here, he corrected a faulty tub drain, which has leaked at random intervals since we bought this house twenty years ago. Later this week we have someone coming to examine our garage door, which has begun making an alrming clanging noise each time it opens or closes. Howard has a dental appointment for a crown, and two kids had doctor appointments. The financial squirrel in my brain has been making distressed noises, she wants to hide away all the money into safe reserves against impending need. Sometimes it is hard for her to accept that ‘need’ is now.

Even as I’m paying out all of these bills, I’ve been contemplating a minimalism documentary I watched, and that new tidying up series from Marie Kondo. First let me say that Ms. Kondo is adorable, I just want to put her in my pocket and keep her. She radiates happiness and optimism. I like her approach to objects and to adjusting our relationships with them. I’m less enamored of the minimalist philosophy from the documentary which pares down living spaces to echoing rooms and dependence on the infrastructure of others to maintain comfort. Living out of two suitcases means that you’re dependent on someone else to own and manage a laundromat for your use, also you require hotels, rentable furnished apartments, grocery stores, restaurants, etc. A life of extreme minimalism (without being impoverished) is a life of extreme privilege. And yet, the minimalists have reasonable points to make about the fact that most modern Americans acquire far more stuff than will make them happy. The acquisition of stuff becomes a financial, physical, and emotional burden. I just prefer Ms. Kondo’s approach for readjusting that burden.

The thought floats through my mind, all the spending I’m doing this week is to maintain things that we already have. I would not have to spend five hundred dollars (my guess at the cost) repairing the garage door if I decided not to have an automatic garage door. This thought leads my inner financial squirrel to pipe up and say “Do we really need a garage door?” She makes this sort of noise at any expenditure, which is sometimes useful in helping me be conscious about how I’m spending resources. Other times it contributes to anxiety-related decision paralysis.

In the next few months our family plans to do even more spending. We’re going to be buying materials and assistance to reconfigure our kitchen. I spin in mental circles as I contemplate this. I believe that re-configuring our space to match how we want to be living is a good thing. However spending money to replace cupboards when we already have functioning cupboards is kind of wasteful. But I plan to offset that waste by salvaging the existing cupboards and donating them to Habitat for Humanity. Yet the project will require money and time both of which could be spent on other projects, perhaps projects that cost less and would do more to make the world a better place. Also, if we spend money improving our kitchen, we’re committing to spending money in the future to maintain that kitchen. But I believe in the power of Place and doing the work in order to create a place with a particular spirit and beauty about it. Putting in the time and effort to make my home into such a place seems worthwhile. Particularly if I also enjoy the process of creating that place.

Around and around I go contemplating in small scale (my kitchen remodel) issues of resource management and the value of personal fulfillment vs public good; issues that have application in much larger scales in society. It would be kind of nice to just be excited about remodeling without all the attached mental churn. But for now, I need to get back to work earning the money that will pay down debts, buy materials, and grant me a life comfortable enough that I can afford to contemplate these thoughts.