Clickin’ and Lockin’

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We had some house guests stay in the middle of July, and then planned a trip ourselves for the end of August, with more friends staying at our place on our return. What better time to embark on a major project in the guest room?

We’d done some perusing of flooring options for basement rooms, and settled on an engineered wood floor from Kahrs. Installed as a floating floor (i.e. not attached to the sub-floor or walls), it can handle the temperature and moisture variation that comes with the territory. And because it has a veneer of solid wood on top, it doesn’t look like plastic or feel fake. In fact, you can refinish it, just like any other hardwood floor.

So we pulled up the wall-to-wall carpet that had some stains and some mystery lumps underneath, and were thankful to find that the carpet pad wasn’t glued down particularly well.

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It did take some scraping to get the glue up, but it went pretty quickly.

There was some bumpiness in the concrete, and so we diligently watched plenty of YouTube videos about self-leveling compound (SLC). No link because none stood out as particularly helpful – turns out, there’s not much to it. Apply primer, mix SLC according to the directions on the bag (one bag at a time) and pour.

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I tried to cheat a bit as shown below – there was an area of the floor, about 4′ x 8′, that was around 1/2-3/4″ higher than the rest of the room. To bring the rest of the floor up to that height would have been quite expensive. A 50 lb bag of SLC runs about $35, and only covers 12 sq ft at 1/2″ thickness, so we would have needed 20 or more bags. Maybe we’ll regret not just spending the money, but for now, we soldier on.

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After the SLC, we put down a moisture barrier of 6 mil poly sheets. Conveniently, Lowe’s sells 250 sq ft rolls, which fit more or less exactly.

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After the plastic sheet comes a layer of padding. We chose cork sheets, because they also provide a bit of insulation. Since this is a basement room, anything we could do to make the floor a little warmer under foot seemed wise.

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After the cork, it was time to start putting down the planks, which click together along the long edges and the ends.

This was definitely the fun part as it goes pretty quickly and it’s satisfying to see the progress. (Thanks, Claire, for the chop saw loan! Would’ve been a lot slower otherwise!)

It wasn’t hard to trim the door jambs to accommodate the flooring – just use a cutoff to guide the saw.

Here it is, all installed:

You might remember earlier when I said we tried to cheat. Here’s where the timing came back to bite us – there were a couple areas where the planks spanned a dip in the sub-floor, and the floor bounces just a little bit when you walk on those areas. End of the world? Hardly, but it’s one of those things that would irk me every time I walked through the room.

Unfortunately, we were out of time as we were departing for our travels the next day. So we moved the furniture back into the room and took off.

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Sometime soon we’ll move all the furniture out again, pull up the floor (marking each plank so they go back in order), shim up the low spots with extra cork underlayment, replace the floor, and then replace the furniture. No big deal, right?

(Plus, of course, we have to trim out the room with baseboard moulding and the like.)

 

Growing

When we moved the strawberries to the bed by the side of the house in early June, we got some surprise tag-alongs.

We don’t know if that bed had a bunch of squash or pumpkin seeds already there, or if they arrived with the compost we put down, but either way, we wound up with a bunch of squash vines intermixed with the strawberries.

A little replanting later, and we’d separated everyone out. I ordered a drip irrigation system and automatic watering timer, and all those plants are growing like it’s their job. Squash is blossoming in the back, and the strawberries are much happier in the sun in front, making new vines, leaves and some fruit.

Just above that raised bed is our fig tree. It’s planted pretty close to the house, but so far, we haven’t seen any signs of root intrusion and we have seen lots of signs of figs. We’ve been pulling down about 10-15 big ones a day since they started to get ripe, and for now, they’re just going in the freezer if they don’t go in the morning’s granola. But there are tons more, and some are definitely destined for a pizza, with others getting wrapped in bacon and stuffed with blue cheese.

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When we got the keys, we were told the big apple tree in the backyard was of the Gravenstein variety. Some timely googling by Dina this past weekend taught us that these apples ripen much earlier than, say, the varieties we’re used to on the East Coast. In fact, they are ready now.

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The irony is that Dina doesn’t really enjoy apple juice, cider, sauce or pie, so we’re on the lookout for other ways to use them up. We also have way more than we need, so if you’re in the area, drop a line and we’ll hook you up with some fruit.

Lighting the Way

I hadn’t quite pieced together when we initially hired the electricians to rewire the house that many of the light fixtures would need replacing. The contractors did put up minimal lighting (i.e. wires with a socket and a bulb), but we hadn’t picked out new fixtures in time for them to be professionally installed.

So as we picked up lamps, I installed them around the house. This one provides some sorely needed illumination on the back steps.

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And we happened to be down in Portland a few weeks back, so we checked out Hippo Hardware, an impressive, three floor warehouse of antique (or at least used) lights, fixtures, and various other goods for the home. We picked out an awesome, vintage chandelier that looks like it might have been in service at a hotel or in the lobby of a mid-century building.

The price included re-wiring the fixture to UL standards (safety first!), but that took a couple days, and we were leaving Portland the next day. So our friend Syd generously picked it up and schlepped it as far as Olympia. I went down and we had an only slightly sketchy handoff of unlabeled cardboard boxes in the parking lot of a mini-mart.

Installation wasn’t too tough, especially with two sets of hands.

And here it is, fully in place:

And we got this ceiling fan / light combo for the bedroom, which does quite a nice job of moving air without making too much noise.


The rest of the fixtures so far have been either cheap placeholders (so we could get the electrical work inspected) or boring (in the home office). Not blog-worthy, either way.

Along similar lines, we had the electricians put in can lights (recessed ceiling fixtures) in the living room and guest bedroom, and they’re quite nice. Nothing particularly fancy, but we quite like how much light they put out, and they’re obviously pretty unobtrusive.

Settling In

We’ve been hard at work since moving in about 6 weeks ago. Of course there’s the usual sorting through boxes and trying various permutations of furniture and such, but we’ve also continued with some more home improvements.

We do have grand plans for a kitchen remodel, but that’s at least a year out at this point, so we’re doing our best to work with the existing space, which hasn’t been touched very much since it was built in 1926. At some point, they did add a dishwasher, but it was definitely in the 80s, if not the 70s. After just a couple weeks living with the old one, it became clear it was actually worse than no dishwasher at all, since it kept tempting us into trying in one more time.

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Craigslist to the rescue!

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We picked up this Bosch number from someone remodeling their kitchen, replacing all the stainless appliances with ones hidden behind panels. I guess this is trickle down economics in play? Regardless, we’ll take it.

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Installation was pretty straightforward (I did have to replace the water supply and drain hoses, but neither is very expensive or hard to come by) and the new unit is both quiet and effective, whereas the old one was neither.

We played the same game with the stove (again, after trying to use the old one for a few weeks), and scored a brand new LG electric range with convection oven (so fancy!) for about half price on CL. It wasn’t until we got it home that we learned of it’s amazing, colorful interior.

Goes pretty well with the peach cabinets, right?

At this point, the kitchen is functional enough, even if it’s a terrible layout. We have cabinet space for most everything, and appliances that do their jobs. We’ll call it a win.

Next up, light fixtures.

Lead up to the Move-in!

There was a flurry of activity in the house during and after our big trip. While we were away, the electricians installed a new panel and rewired most of the house. The old panel was made by Zinsco, and the breakers are notorious for not tripping when they’re supposed to. Much of the wiring in the house was knob and tube, some of it modified (in a bad way). In addition, the old service wire that provided electricity to the house was pulling away from its anchor, and crossed over our neighbor’s backyard. All in all, not good.

So after a couple of weeks of work, we were up and running with 200 amp service, a brand new panel, outlets that were all in the baseboards (it was a grab bag beforehand), hardwired smoke detectors, recessed lighting in the living room and guest bedroom, and a few other scattered electrical goodies.

As part of their work, the electricians had opened up a bunch of ceilings and walls (actually, we got to do some of the demolition, which was good fun). So there was some repair work to be done before we could move on to painting. We hired a great guy who made quick work of the project, including fixing up the plaster wall by the fireplace that had been completely soaked through.

I dug out all the plaster that had disintegrated from water damage, and our contractor patched everything up.

With the walls once again intact, we were ready for the painters. In contrast to the electrical work, which didn’t change the appearance too much, a few coats of paint made it look like a completely different house.

And once the paint was up, they started to refinish the floors.

If I’m honest, I find the floors a little redder in color than I wanted (although they absolutely used the stain that we’d chosen), but only by a bit. Overall, they look great.

Before we left for Vietnam, we’d also ordered some new windows for the basement. The old ones were aluminum, single pane windows, and especially on the south side of the house, the wood trim had all but rotted away.

We’re quite happy with the new vinyl windows, and the new trim will keep water away from the foundation for at least another 10-15 years.

We didn’t do much with the bathrooms, although they absolutely need some attention. Our two efforts to make them a bit more livable until we can remodel were to add a curved shower curtain bar (which makes the shower/tub feel a bit bigger) and a cheap wall cabinet to add some storage.

  

Other than some cleaning, that’s about where things stood when the movers brought everything over last Friday.

Berry Time!

This one’s been sitting in the “Drafts” folder for a few weeks, but we’ve got a couple of good excuses for the radio silence. First, some behind-the-scenes hosting changes left the site in limbo for a week or so. Then, more recently, we’ve been packing up and moving into the new house. But that’s another post’s topic…

Back at the end of May, we were doing a little survey of the backyard, and noticed that the previous owners had left a few blueberry bushes in containers, and also had planted a bunch of strawberries in the shade. Both sets of berry plants were alive, but neither was particularly happy in their respective locations. So we took an afternoon to remedy the situation.

First, the strawberries got moved to a bed on the south side of the house:

Then, the blueberries got planted in the ground, just up the hill:

Both are reasonably close to the new rain barrel, so I’m planning to set up some kind of automatic drip watering system to put the collected rainwater to good use.

We also spent some quality time with a sledge hammer and sawzall to take down a wall in the basement. Not quite sure what the room was intended to be used for, but we couldn’t imagine it in our lives, and so we took it out.

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There’s definitely some basement remodeling in our future. It’s great to have lots of extra storage space for the moment, and plenty of room to expand down the road (any of: extra bedroom, mother-in-law apartment, rec room, shop space, etc.).

Water, water, everywhere

In addition to fixing the gutters, we’ve taken a couple other steps to mitigate water coming in our home. In fact, one of the first things we did when we got the house was have a cap installed on the chimney to keep water out.

It’s been working well, and the gentleman from Ed’s Chimney who installed it also mentioned that there were some exposed brick tops on the chimney that would eventually result in water seeping in. Basically, some of the bricks are arranged in a stairstep pattern, and water can pool up on the flat surfaces and eventually soak through the wall. He recommended making a smooth surface that water will run down instead.

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So Saturday, Dina and I set to work with a couple bags of mortar and a trowel.

Turns out, I’m terrible at estimating how much mortar the job would take, so we had to make an extra trip for snacks and more mortar (it took 5 bags total), but by the end of the day, we’d filled in the stairsteps and had a nice slope on both sides of the chimney.

It’s definitely one of those tasks where you learn as you do it, and by the time you’ve finished the second side, you’re just starting to feel like you’ve got the hang of it.

It won’t win any masonry awards, but hopefully it’ll keep the water at bay.

Gutters

When we had our pre-inspection on the house, we noted a few different water-related issues. There was, of course, the missing cap on the chimney that led to a saturated plaster wall by the fireplace, but also a bunch of problems with the gutters.

For example, this downspout not only crossed in front of the basement door at face height, it didn’t actually connect to the final elbow, and dumped water from about a quarter of the roof a mere 6 inches from the foundation. And the previous owners wondered why the basement flooded sometimes…

This gem collected water from fully half of the area of our roof and deposited it into a grassy area only a foot or two away from the house. Oh, by the way, that grassy area is sloped back towards the house.

This was the least questionable of the downspout designs, but it was also the least attractive, being positioned right by the front door. And while it did end up guiding water away from the house, it guided it on to our front walkway.

So this past weekend, I watched some more Ask This Old House videos and picked up some aluminum downspout parts at Lowes (along with some white sheet metal screws).

Here’s the first re-routed downspout:

No more head clunking! And, it actually connects to the drain instead of pour water on the foundation.

At the back corner, I installed a rain barrel with an overflow hose. This will let us use some of that water (for the garden, no drinking!), and I ran the hose down to the corner of our lot so that any excess water will flow into the street & ultimately the sewer.

In the front, our buddy James came over again and we reconfigured the downspouts altogether. It turns out the section of gutter on the front porch roof was already sloped away from the house (meaning it didn’t drain properly after a rain), so it wasn’t too hard to patch up the old downspout hole and add a new one at the other end of the gutter.

We also added a very small section of vertical downspout to connect the main roof gutter to the porch roof gutter (visible in the upper right of the above photo).

The new downspout runs into the front rockery/bushes, and deposits water a good ways away from anywhere it could do damage (foundation, etc.).

Not the most beautiful work I’ve ever done, but functional. All in all, a very successful weekend, I think! Though of course we’ll have to double check when it actually rains.

There is a long-term plan to address other water issues in the back of the house the backyard – our house is at the bottom of a long hill, and all the water coming down is currently directed right at the back of the house. But that French drain project is at least a year away…

Honeymoon Part I – Photos

We took a little break from the home renovation for a belated honeymoon, and traveled to Shanghai, Vietnam, and stopped in southern California on the way home for a friend’s wedding.

Photos first, and stories later on.

The “A” Word

Seriously, people of the past, popcorn ceilings? Some things I can understand, like shag carpeting. It’s not my thing, but I can at least imagine why it was popular at some point. Popcorn ceilings? Appearance aside, after two months, they’re already collecting cobwebs and dust and are horrible to clean, let alone 20 years. And it’s just adding insult to injury that they often contain asbestos. Ugh.

One of the first things we did in the house was have the popcorn ceilings (in our living and dining rooms) tested for asbestos, and sure enough, it was in there.

We knew from our inspection that the electrical service to the house, the breaker panel, and the wiring all needed some attention, as well as the wood floors, some plaster repairs from water damage, and a few coats of paint. After a bunch of conversations with different contractors, we finally figured out the proper order of operations for that work: removing the popcorn ceiling, all the electrical work, plaster repairs, paint, and finally refinishing the floors.

By the time we got an asbestos abatement contractor in to bid on the job, there was only a week before we wanted the electricians to start, and we learned that licensed abatement professionals need to wait 10 days after submitting their permit application before they can start work. Hmm.

In the course of reading about asbestos in general, we found the impressive Puget Sound Clean Air Agency website, and learned it’s possible to do the work yourself (without the waiting period). So after much discussion, we decided that I (Dave) would do the removal with our friend Faye. This is a favor that, truly, money can’t buy (since you’re not legally allowed to hire anyone except a licensed contractor to perform the work, and they have the waiting period). We owe you big time, Faye!

The PS Clean Air website has very clear step-by-step directions on removing popcorn ceilings that contain asbestos, and I was able to procure all the requisite safety gear from either Western Safety or Home Depot (for those in Seattle doing this yourself, Western Safety actually has the better pricing on a lot of the gear, especially the 6 mil plastic sheeting).

Last Friday afternoon, another friend came over and we started putting up plastic sheeting.

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This job took a remarkable amount of duct tape, along with the 6 mil plastic.

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And here we are, ready to go with a layer on the floor, then the walls, then another layer plastic loose on the floor:

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The process is not complicated, just tedious and a bit more cumbersome than it might otherwise seem given the required outfit of a Tyvek suit, gloves taped to the sleeves of the suit, a half-face respirator and goggles. Thankfully, the popcorn ceiling in our home was unpainted, which makes removal a lot easier: spray it down with a water/detergent mix, then scrape it off. So that’s how I spent my Saturday morning.

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As you can see, piles of the gloppy plaster/foam/asbestos mix wind up on the floor.

From there, you strategically fold up the loose plastic and stuff it into special bags, just for asbestos disposal. We were left with some kind of plaster board ceiling, which we wiped down with wet rags (to get as much of the bad stuff off as possible) and then painted over with a primer to seal up whatever might have been left behind. Then we pulled down the remaining plastic, stuffed it into yet more bags, and eventually hosed ourselves and all the tools off on the front porch.

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Even though Squeaky (our truck) would have been more than up to the task of hauling the bags, you’re not allowed to transport asbestos waste in open vehicles, so we jammed all 8 bags into our little Corolla. It was pretty hilarious showing up at the disposal center (again, the excellent Puget Sound Clean Air Agency website has a list of locations that accept this kind of waste) in line with the giant trash and recycling trucks, but to their credit, they treated me well and charged me about $90 for the 8 bags. Best deal in town.

We’re quite pleased with the results in the end – popcorn free ceilings!

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We definitely didn’t choose to do this ourselves to save money, but it did save quite a bit – I think we spent ~$350, and the abatement company had quoted $2800. Not too surprising, since it’s a very labor-intensive job. Also worth noting that the setup and cleanup took about 4x as long as the actual scraping.

Would I recommend this to someone else, or do it again? Not really. I found it altogether unpleasant, since you’re cooped up in a plastic suit for hours, working overhead, lifting heavy and wet plastic bags, and fumbling around in gloves, googles and respirator. But I do feel that we did it safely (and legally). And I’m thrilled it’s done.