17 December 2014

Handmade Christmas

Christmas has really snuck up on me this year. Maybe it's because I am doing a handmade Christmas for my family this year, and those projects always take more time than I anticipate. My siblings decided to forgo gifts to each other and just focus on the kids this year. My gift for Catherine's kids is more of a family gift - a set of Notre Dame cornhole boards. Everybody gets their own set of beanbags, so the kids can play their own game while the adults are using the cornhole boards. I'm pretty proud of how these turned out.

The beanbags turned out equally well, though this picture was obviously taken before they were stuffed.

My niece Amelia is learning her colors, and her mommy thought she could use a color-sorting beanbag game. I was happy to oblige. The holes have a fabric pouch to catch the beanbags, and the colors (10 in all) have 2 beanbags each. I think it turned out pretty cute!

I even made a couple things for myself. It's not up to the level of craftsmanship of the other two items, but it's plenty sturdy and helped tidy up my pantry floor quite a bit, though you can see that I've got a long way to go in that regard. One day I'll get around to adding more shelving, but this utilizes the sliver of wall under the light switch pretty efficiently.

I also finally got around to making a cutting board for myself from an old piece of walnut I found. My old bamboo board split in half ages ago and I've been in need of a new board ever since. I just sanded it to bare wood, cut it to size, rounded over the edges, and applied as much mineral oil as it could handle. I thought about routing a juice groove around the perimeter, but the board is not quite as wide as ideal and the groove would have made the working area even smaller. The picture doesn't show it well, but this board is almost too beautiful to use as a cutting board.

03 December 2014

Unfortunately, it is officially too cold to be working out on the roof, so I'm afraid the lovely blue tarp is going to be a little more permanent than I'd hoped. Since I can't do that, I've been busy with inside tasks. I built fence panels:

I also hung insulation, installed battens in the master bathroom, started on the crown moulding in the master bedroom, and painted window trim in the master bedroom that has been primed for 2 years. None of it amounts to a whole lot, but it's something at least. We also spent about a week in October down at Gulf Shores in my sister's condo. We didn't ever want to leave! With this view greeting me every morning and not a speck of construction dust anywhere, can you blame me?

Since my last check-in, we also survived Halloween:

(Mary Poppins, a penguin, Bert the chimney sweep, Madeline, and Boo from Monsters, Inc.)

Thanksgiving, Sam's polydactyly surgery, and now we're on to Christmas preparations. I'm doing a lot of handmade gifts this Christmas, so I'll hopefully update with those projects as they are completed.

09 October 2014

Up on the roof

I took the plunge and started tearing up the gutters on our porch. I got quite a bit torn off the first day and a couple of the rotten lookouts replaced. The lookout is the part that holds the gutter. It has a deep V notch on the top to receive the metal liner. In our case, it also has an angled cut at the top to receive the crown moulding trim and a squared notch on the front to receive the fascia. It's a lot of notching, but it makes installation of all the trim boards much easier.

At any rate, that's just about all I've done on it in the past week. Despite a weather.com extended forecast of nothing but sunshine, it's rained just about every day since I started. I had to scramble the first day with a too-small tarp that ended up blowing off in the middle of the night. So I ordered a larger tarp to cover the entire roof and I'm waiting for clearer skies before working any more on it.

04 October 2014

Fixing the foundation

We had another contractor come to look at our gaping crack in the basement wall, and again we were assured that it looked much worse than it actually is. He told us it would be absurdly expensive to hire him for such a small job (his company is located several hours away and he has to pay his employees just as much for travel time as for actual working time) but told us how to fix it ourselves.

I built a second wall out of concrete block in front of the brick knee wall and in the doorway, then filled the gap between the two walls with mortar. This basically makes the knee wall twice as thick and much stronger for resisting the lateral force of the dirt. Now if that brick wall wants to bow outward, it will push against about 1200 pounds of (reinforced) concrete. Access to the coal room through the doorway is restricted somewhat, but we can still get back there if we need to (which is very infrequently).

No, it's not a thing of beauty, but whaddaya gonna do?

I had an idea to mount a jack sideways in the doorway to push the bricks back to where they ought to be, but that unfortunately didn't work. Both contractors indicated that the wall was still OK to remain stepped like it was as long as it didn't get any worse, so this fix should be alright. Ideally I'd like to get a steel beam installed on each side of the brick wall (for other reasons, but that would also alleviate this issue somewhat), but I am content with this as a solution for the time being. It was only about $150 for the block and concrete mix plus a few days of work. I still need to fill in the crack with new mortar, but it's not really a pressing need.

I'm almost convinced that the root of the whole problem was the termite guy. He said he pumped an outrageous amount of solution into the ground (I don't remember exactly, but I want to say it was something like 1300 gallons), and that amount of fluid pressure behind the knee wall could have caused the damage. Thanks, Terminix!

02 September 2014

While we're focused on the basement and fixing the stuff that nobody will ever see, we started talking about the gutters. Bowed walls and settlement issues in a house are almost always caused by water in one way or another, and our basement has (minor) water problems. The main culprit in our case are the gutters. They're old fashioned box gutters, which are built into the eaves of the house and are invisible from the street. They're typically lined with metal, but poor maintenance often leads to their failure. Unless they're copper, the metal has to be painted every few years.

As you might have guessed, this maintenance was not done on our gutters for many years, and the attempts to patch and repair them have not done them any favors. As a result, we've ended up with rotted eaves and water in the basement. We decided to tackle the porch gutters ourselves and see if we're up for doing the work on the rest of the house before we invest in scaffolds and other equipment.

Yesterday I removed all the fascia boards and soffits to see the extent of the damage and formulate a plan for repair. Luckily, most of the water damage is on the trim boards and not on the structure itself. Two of the lookouts (the boards that support the gutters) will have to be replaced, as well as all of the gutters. But the porch rafters and beams look fine, so rebuilding ought to be simple.

Just for kicks, here's a picture of some of the previous "repairs" to the metal gutter liner. In case you were wondering, roofing tar is not an acceptable long-term solution for this kind of work!

Tar patched box gutter

26 August 2014

Oh boy. I recently ventured down into the basement and noticed a gaping crack in the brick wall running down the center of the house. It has always had a settlement crack, but I don't ever remember being alarmed by it. This time I was, and (I think) rightfully so.

In construction lingo, it's what they call "not good." I know it's difficult to tell from a picture if you've never been in my basement, so I'll do my best to describe what is going on. Through the doorway and on the right half of the picture is a standard full-height basement with a concrete floor. On the left side of the picture is a crawlspace. It's just dirt held back by a short retaining wall that is two bricks thick. The knee wall is integrated into the full-height brick wall. The knee wall is bulging out a little bit around the doorway, and the brick above (that forms the left side of the doorway) is going with it, widening that settlement crack.

We met with one contractor today and will talk with two more before we make a decision on how to fix this. In the meantime, we've placed a jack under the door lintel to catch the weight in case the wall takes a dive.

18 August 2014

A stinky investigation

With my in-laws' anniversary party on the forefront of my mind, not a lot of house stuff got done in the past couple of months, not even regular housekeeping tasks. It took me almost a week, but things are now back to their normal state of disarray. I've been able to get a couple of little things done here and there. When I was installing the crown moulding in the back bedroom, I had to take down the attic hatch access door

When the door was off, I noticed a sewer gas smell coming from the attic. There was always a small odor around the bathroom, but I figured it was just because there was no water in the traps to prevent sewer gas from coming up. But this was a very strong smell, so I climbed up to investigate. This is what I found: 

Sewer gas venting into attic

Sorry about the terrible picture. I was trying to balance on the joists and not fall through the ceiling while snapping this shot. In case it's hard to see, the elbow is not attached to the (stinky) pipe at all, so sewer gas was just getting dumped into the attic instead of through the roof. I did a dry fit to see if I could just push the elbow down back onto the pipe, but that wouldn't work. The vertical portion of pipe was cut badly on an angle, and the elbow that connected to it was rotated out slightly. The result was that the pipe was never seated in the elbow very well. Even when it was seated as far as it would go, there was still a gap between the pipe and the elbow because of the angled cut. Our plumber extraordinaire strikes again. I simply cut off the elbow, straightened the cut on the vertical pipe, and glued in another elbow. Miraculously, an elbow with a longer sweep angle fit perfectly. Only a half an hour from start to finish, and most importantly, no more smell! 

Before I enlisted Tom's help to re-hang the attic access door, I primed and painted it flat ceiling white. Now it's back up and finishing the 1x2 frame around the door is the next project. Well, it's another project, not necessarily the next one.  

I probably should have painted the edges too, but the trim will cover those. This picture also shows the finished crown moulding, still in need of a coat of paint. 

28 June 2014

Item #17

I finally finished the crown moulding in the back bedroom. It's primed, caulked, wood-filled, sanded, and ready for a coat or two of glossy paint. Not only that, but I got a good start on the crown in the bathroom, too. I am also in the process of cutting the last batch of wall tiles. Anything to avoid plumbing.

27 June 2014

I never really quit working on the bathroom after the ill-fated one-room challenge, but I got another kick in the pants to get it done. Tom's parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and we're throwing a party in their honor. The party won't be in our house, thank goodness, but we'd at least like to offer a bedroom and a bathroom if anyone needs it. The spare room and hall bathroom are looking worse than ever, but I can see the progress even if no one else can.

Plumbing is the worst.

23 June 2014

Clara strikes again

Just when I thought I was to the point of being able to decorate instead of construct in Clara's room, Clara struck again. One night instead of counting sheep to fall asleep she decided to peel paint off the wall. (Full disclosure, this happened like 8 months ago and I'm just now getting around to fixing it.)

Fortunately the surface of the drywall paper was still intact so I did not have to use any drywall mud. I just sanded the edges and painted right over. If you get close you can still see the outline of the part that she peeled (in retrospect, probably should have used drywall mud and not had this issue), but it disappears when you get more than two feet away. I was very happy with the color match on the new gallon I had to buy for the repair, so kudos to Sherwin-Williams for that!

28 May 2014

One Room Challenge - Wrap-up

You might have guessed by the radio silence that things did not end well for the One Room Challenge. Not even close.

I'm certainly several steps closer to completion, but even at the beginning I knew it was an unrealistic goal. There was just too much life happening - road trips, holidays with family, sick kids. And I'm okay with that. Well, I could have done without the sickness, but we're all back to normal now.

Despite the utter failure of this experiment, I'd be willing to do it again. Just in a room that doesn't require plumbing. Plumbing is the worst.

29 April 2014

One Room Challenge - Week Four

I don't even want to talk about the lack of progress being made. I managed to cut out the hole in the vanity top for the sink, but that was about it. 

22 April 2014

One Room Challenge - Week Three

Well, week 3 was pretty much a bust. We were out of town for 5 days for Easter, so I really didn't get much done. Last week I discovered that some of the toilet plumbing was not to code, so I have to take out a large section of pipe. Don't you love it when you have to redo the work you paid someone else to do? I brought the toilet upstairs last week thinking that I only had to set the toilet flange before I could install it. Yeah, right, like it could ever go so smoothly. I guess this isn't called a challenge for nothing.

While I fumed about the plumbing I have to cut out and redo, I re-set the bathtub, which involved more fiddling with the plumbing. I'm tired of plumbing.

I've been stripping paint off the doors with a heat gun. It's one of those things you can put down at a moment's notice, so I'll keep chipping away (pun intended) at it whenever I have a free minute. The doors are so pretty under that paint that I don't know if I'll want to paint them again.

Otherwise, not much got accomplished. I'm very close to calling it quits on the challenge, but I'm going to see how much I can get done. I know it still won't be finished by then, but I will keep on trucking.

15 April 2014

One Room Challenge - Week Two

This week I prepped for vanity installation - installed shutoff valves, cut out plumbing access in the back of the dresser, and cut a hole in the top for the sink. Before I could screw the vanity into place, I needed to install the baseboard. I used the baseboard we salvaged from the classroom near Cincinnati, but I had to strip it of several layers of paint first. The wood was pretty but not so pretty that I felt guilty for painting it. I made and installed the plinth blocks for the doors. I wanted to get to the door trim, but making plinth blocks and stripping paint ate up a lot of work time this week (plus we were out of town over the weekend). Installing the plinths had to come before the baseboard, but the rest of the door trim can wait a bit longer.

That's it for week 2! 

06 April 2014

One Room Challenge - Week One

White hex tile floor with silver grout
The bathroom floor is done! And it didn't take 2 years to get it grouted! I used Mapei's Silver grout with the hex tiles. I would have been happy to go a tad darker, but a darker color would have drawn too much attention to my less-than-perfect tile installation. 

Grouting the floor was holding up the rest of the bathroom; the toilet, vanity/sink, and door trim all depended on its completion. I also grouted the walls adjacent to the (eventual) toilet, since that will be difficult to reach once the commode is installed. Grouting is a long - though not difficult - process, so that's it for week one!

03 April 2014

One Room Challenge

One of the blogs I follow, My Notting Hill, is participating in a One Room Challenge. Twenty bloggers each pick one room in their homes to transform over the course of six weeks. I thought I'd play along to give myself some motivation to push through the bathroom renovation and finally get something done. So here's what I'm starting with:

This is currently what you see from the hallway. It's where the vanity will go. 

 This is opposite the vanity. I think I will be installing Ikea cabinets here, or perhaps a piece of furniture like a buffet or console.

This is the shower side.

This is the toilet side, though clearly lacking a toilet.

I'll try and update every Sunday on the progress I made the previous week. A lot of the work that needs to be done is obvious, like finishing the tile and installing a toilet and sink. But there is a bit of decorator-y kind of stuff I want to get done, too. We'll see how far I get in 6 weeks!

02 April 2014

Once upon a(n embarrassingly long) time ago, I started tiling the floor of our hall bathroom. Two years later, it still sat undone, yet ridiculously close to completion. I only had a small area just inside the doorway left to do, which required a few cuts.

I don't know why I found cutting the mosaics so intimidating, but it was enough of a problem for me to stall out on this project for two years. I ended up just popping the tiles off the sheets and holding each individual tile in my hand (you could use pliers if you're into "safety" or whatever) and grinding it against the side of the spinning saw blade. The cuts aren't perfect, but they'll do. I only had about 20 tiles that needed to be cut, so it didn't take too long. 

Now that the floor is laid and cleaned up, I can grout! Hopefully it'll get done faster than the tiling did.

*As a small defense, tiling is not something you can do for 5 minutes here or there when you've got a small break. With mortar, you've got to have a block of time to devote to tiling, and that just doesn't happen. Ever.