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.

Replacing a Windowsill

My 16 year old has developed an interest in plants. She is truly enjoying watering green things and watching them grow. The one problem she has is that there is only so much space on her windowsill and desk.

There might also be a desk clutter problem, but the widow sill is only four inches wide and thus can only accommodate a few plants. And if you take a closer look at the sill, it is plastic.

I’m fairly confident that the original builder of this house was going for inexpensive rather than durable or beautiful. The plastic has yellowed, stained, warped, and cracked. I decided to replace it with hard wood. So I spent a week sanding and staining a board. total cost for the board and stain $15. I picked a glossy stain so the finished board would easily stand up to water spillage from plants. Once my board was ready, I removed the plastic widow sill. And I discovered Styrofoam glued to the window framing.

I was able to easily pry up the Styrofoam, except for spots where the glue was so bonded to the wood beneath it might as well have been cement.

But the glue spots were fairly flat, so I could just install the new sill on top of them. And I did.

There are now ten inches of space on which she can arrange plants and other decorative items. We’ve moved the desk back into place (much cleaner now.) The plants will get to move into their new home as soon as the caulk dries. And now a small corner of our house is prettier than it was before.

Considering a Kitchen Re-model

We’ve been living in this house for eighteen years. It existed for seven years before we moved in. This means that the kitchen is twenty-five years old, and it is showing its age. A lot. The age shows in little things like the silverware drawer that was held together with duct tape for several years before we finally used wood staples and glue, or the three other drawers which have lost their fronts. Then there is that one cabinet which doesn’t close right because young children used to swing on it and bent the hinges out of shape. Also there are some layout things which cause minor annoyance on a regular basis. So we’re contemplating giving the whole thing an overhaul.

But we have a problem, several actually. Our house is also our office. Both Howard and I work here. We work in careers that require focus without interruption. Re-modelling is made up of loud noises, frequent questions, small decisions, and power outages. Another problem is that having our kitchen disrupted is going to seriously impact schedules and poke various anxiety and mental health buttons. We have an abundance of mental health buttons. Some of us shut down if regular patterns are disrupted. Others melt down a bit if the kitchen is messy, I can only imagine the meltdowns when the kitchen is dismantled. I still remember how disorganized and stressed I was when we took apart my office for a re-model, and that one only lasted about a week. Kitchen re-modelling is notorious for lasting a long time.

The good news is that I have a seven month lead time. I have no intention of letting construction begin until November or December at the earliest. We have too many events and deadlines between now and then. We have promises to keep. November – January is the slow time for work. That means it is the best time to have work potentially disrupted. I have time to plan. I intend to use it to front load some of the decision making and purchasing. I would much rather live with tile sitting in my garage for a month than have my kitchen messed up for an extra week because we’re waiting for tile to arrive. I’m certain there are many things I can do to smooth and prepare the way, but I need to know what they are. This is where all of you come in, or at least those of you who have been party to a kitchen re-model. I have some questions so I can learn how this process works.

1. How significant was your re-model? Are we talking new counters and appliances or knocking out walls?
2. What was the most stressful part?
3. What caused the most delays?
4. If you had it to do over again what about the process would you change?

I’d also like to understand kitchen re-models from the contractors side, so if you are one or know one…

1. What causes the most delays for contractors?
2. How can I make my contractor’s job easier?
3. What are common ways that clients make problems for contractors?

This is the information gathering stage of the project. We’re turning over options, learning how this works, deciding on the scope of what we intend to do. On the far side of this is our house being much nicer than it is now. I just want to get from here to there as smoothly as possible.

(And yes, I’m aware that this whole exercise in information gathering is a manifestation of anxiety over spending money and having the kitchen torn apart. The buttons are already getting pressed.)

Deck Demolition the Final Chapter

When we were tearing apart the deck on Saturday, parts of the process made noise. (Hitting a crowbar with a sledge hammer does that.) Several interested neighbors came by to see what the project was. One did even more than that. He asked how we planned to haul away the wreckage. When we confessed that we hadn’t figured that part out, he said “I have a truck you can borrow.” We said we’d probably take him up on it, but the day ended and we hadn’t yet gotten to the point where we were ready to haul.

For us Sunday is a day of rest, so we looked at the mess remaining, but we did no work. At church our neighbor came up and asked again if we needed help hauling. This time he offered not only his truck, but his scout troop to help with the hauling. I’m no idiot. We said “Yes. Thank you.”

I made sure I was outside working before the crew was due to arrive. I wanted to get the last bits off of the house before they arrived because I wanted to be sure that we did as little damage to the siding as possible. While I’m certain that teenage boys would be happy to wield the crowbar, I wasn’t so sure how carefully they’d approach the task. I’d barely stepped outside when I noticed something interesting. The sprinklers had run during the night and our work site now had a wet canal running through it.

More specifically, there had been a slight divot in the ground underneath a major support beam. Overflow from the sprinklers had run into it until there was standing water. You can see the water more clearly after we’d cleared away the debris. That metal bracket in the foreground of the picture is what held the support beam in place.

That water would have showed up three days per week during six months of the year. It soaked a support beam causing it to swell and contract. It made the air under the deck wet and fed all the fungus. I don’t think the canal was there when the deck was built. It was a thing that formed over years as ground shifted and run off patterns changed.

It took three trips to the dump to get everything hauled away. While some boys were helping with hauling, we handed shovels to other boys and had them start digging out the cement footings. Those metal brackets were sunk in cement.

They were big and heavy. But we needed them out before we can use this ground for anything else. One was particularly interesting as they poured the footing right between a concrete pad and a sprinkler pipe. When I first discovered the pipe, I worried that they had poured the concrete around it, but fortunately that was not the case.

There were no further exciting flora or fauna discoveries. I’m fine with that. Though we did manage to unearth the dryer vent.

We’ll need to clean it off and put a vent cover on it so that rain and snow don’t get inside. We also found out that Doritos bags can last a very long time.

The boys of the scout troop were great. They worked hard and didn’t complain, not even when they had to help lift concrete into the back of the truck. I offered to pay money into the troop fund, but my neighbor said that the troop needed the service hours. So we fed the boys donuts and Gatorade. The ground is cleared, ready for whatever comes next. I really didn’t expect the job to go this quickly. I’m feeling very grateful for good neighbors and good young men who are willing to donate their time and effort on short notice.

Howard thinks we should throw down grass seed and just add the space to our lawn. I haven’t quite given up on the idea of a patio. Either way, it is a project for a different week and probably cooler weather.

Deck Update

I am so very tired, but I completed what I hoped to do. We now have a small deck with salvaged railing.

Obviously we still have a lot of clearing away work on the old deck. Not mention the massive pile of rotted wood which now sits in my driveway awaiting a trip to the dump. But we can now safely exit our house and it is sturdy enough to last us a few more years. We checked underneath and the combination of a concrete pad and being out of the line of fire for the dryer vent means what remains is still sound.

It is enough for one day.

Demolishing the Deck

Some time before we bought our house, a previous owner built a redwood deck in the back yard.

I took these pictures of it three years ago when we made a family project out of pressure washing and re-staining it. Look at how lovely it was. Particularly note the even-ness of the deck planks.

Having seen what is underneath, I’m certain the trouble had already begun, but none of it was evident from the surface. It seemed solid. Then last year we started noticing that the planks were uneven. Some of them were pushing up. Others were sinking.

I took the picture after we’d already spray painted a warning line on a particularly bad spot and after I’d removed some railing. Most of the deck was still solid underfoot, but some of it felt…soft. We figured we had a rotten beam. Howard and I discussed options. We don’t have the money to replace the deck. To get at the bad spot, we’d have to pull apart everything. We knew once it was apart, we probably couldn’t get it back together. We decided that demolition was what we had to do, because it was going to be a safety hazard otherwise.

It was hard to decide that staring at the surface. Everything I could see looked nice. I felt bad making a mess of all that beautiful wood. But I got out the drill and pulled off the railings. Then we pulled off the trim.

You’ll note there is still a section of railing close to the back door. We’re hoping to save that portion of the deck as it feels solid and we need some sort of landing for the back door lest we step out and fall two feet to ground level.

It doesn’t look so bad in that picture. There were an abundance of spiders and bugs as we removed boards, but most of the structure seemed okay. Until you looked close.

There were spots of dry rot. And every single trim board was partly rotted away at the bottom. You can see where the ends of the boards had dissolved back into dirt.

With the railing and the trim out of the way, we started pulling up the planks.

That support beam was not one of the soft spots. It was under a spot that felt solid. Note the underside of the plank.

I’d imagined that perhaps I could give all the wood to someone who could use it. But pretty much every board had some kind of rot or fungus on it. When we got all the planks up, the extent of the rot was apparent.

The entire sub structure of the deck was on its way to becoming dirt.

There were beams we could crumble with our bare hands.

In fact, Kiki did crumble one up, just for fun.

We used a crowbar and a 4′ wrecking bar to get the planks up. Except usually we only had to get one end loose and then we could yank it up with our hands. Either the boards were rotten or the screws were so rusty that they just broke.

We were careful as we proceeded, because bugs, spiders, and weird things. Fungus is weird.

I don’t even know what this thing is, except it is growing out of one of the major support beams.

It’s about the size of my hand and looks like a face hugger alien. But it doesn’t twitch when poked with the end of a crowbar.

As we got closer to the house, we found the jungle of lint.

You see, the people who built this deck did a really good job. The deck was very sturdy. Built to last, and that is why it survived for almost twenty years. Unfortunately they also did something very stupid. The dryer vent blows into the enclosed space underneath the deck. It supplied warm, wet air into the enclosed space for twenty years. No wonder fungus grew and the wood rotted.

Here the narrow two inch slit for air to vent from the dryer.

That was all under the deck planking.

So, whatever we decide to do with the space that no longer has a deck, it will be something that allows the dryer to vent in open air. I bet our clothes will get dry faster too. I admit I’m also excited that the hose faucet will also be in the open. We used to have to reach into a hole in the deck in order to reach the faucet. It was half-jokingly called “The Spider Hole.” It was excellent spider habitat, particularly for widow-type web spinners. As we were demolishing we only spotted one that might have been a black widow. The others were brown, but every bit as creepy.
The square part around the faucet is clear because I removed the spiderwebs in order to detach the hose. It looked pretty much like the adjacent square, with all the webs and egg sacs.

The planks are all removed. Later this evening we’ll tackle removing the rest. All of it is going in a big pile on my driveway. We’re going to have to borrow a truck to take it to the dump, but I think that’s a job for another day. For now I leave you with a picture of our cat who is confused by this project.