Thursday, December 21, 2006

A new throne

Reading this entry from "Building a Better Crackhouse" reminded me that I have yet to blog about the newest addition to our upstairs "WC suite" (I think that's British for bathroom.)

When we re-did the plumbing in the house, we discovered that the old toilet leaked. But, because the water pressure upstairs had been so bad, we had never noticed it, since it amounted to about a drop of water a week or so. With our new "water-pressure-that-could-wash-an-elephant," the toilet leak morphed into quite a spray. And, although we probably could have fixed the leak, it also gave us an excuse to go shopping for a new toilet. Who could pass that up?

For those of you who have not shopped for a toilet in the 21st century, you may not be aware of the array of choices out there. I wasn't. In fact, I was imagining the transaction would go something like this:

Us: "Hi. We need a new toilet."

Evil Big Box Retail Clerk: "OK, what color do you want, white or cream?"
(note-it's the Big Box store, not the clerk that is evil... as we have found many of their clerks to be quite pleasant.)

Us: "Uh, white. Yeah, white will go with whatever we decide to do up there."

Evil Big Box Retail Clerk: "OK, pick one up down that aisle and we'll ring you up."

Ok, I knew we could pick a design that was most asthetically appealing to us, but we also found that we needed to decide on the toilet height, a flushing capacity, a round or elongated bowl, a flap mechanism....blahblahblah, and the colors come in a range much bigger than white or cream (although for a price).

So we spent a couple hours wandering up and down the toilet aisle of the Evil Big Box store, reading the tags on the "floor-models" and wondering if this was a decision we could make on such a spur-of-the-moment.
You can picture it, I'm sure:

Me: "Oooo, honey- look at that cool green-ish one, with the sink to match and everything. No, never-mind. It's (in CAPITAL NUMERS) $700. *Gasp*. Can a toilet cost that much? Seriously."

Sean: "How about these down here. They are a little more reasonable."

Me: "Ok. American Standard. That's a good brand. And this flushing capacity number is bigger than that one. Isn't that a good thing?"

Sean: "Yeah. And that sort of looks like our style."

(Repeat several times....)

Eventually, it was the pocketbook that did most of the decision-making for us. Even so, we are ecstatic with the product. In the past twenty or thirty years (which is how old we figured the old one was) toilets have come a long way, baby. Throw out those plungers and bring on the reading material 'cuz this is one comfy throne. You'll have to take a look the next time you come over. :)

In case anyone is keeping track:
We got a white "right-height" 34" tall toilet, with an elongated bowl. Which, apparently- for reasons still not quite understood by this female- is the shape of choice for most men's toilet needs.

Once we got it home, we had to install it, of course. But I've found that other writers have already covered that subject pretty well. So, I'll leave you with:
How to install a new toilet, from the Granades, by way of Jeannie at House in Progress.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Cool Ways to Heat Old Houses

An article worth tucking away for the day when we might need to think about a new boiler...
Cool Ways to Heat Old Houses. From This Old House Journal.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

WARNING: This can be addicting.

So don't say I didn't warn you.
Some might say I have developed an addiction for architechtural salvage. Others might call it an obsession. Personally, I can't think of many better ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Looking for architechtural salvage pieces is like going to thrift stores- There's a little of everything, including the kitchen sink (literally). You can find a single piece that inspires a whole room, or bring home a whole room's worth of flooring.
It's environmentally friendly. It has history. And some of it is a GREAT deal.

I'll admit, I was a little overwhelmed the first time I stepped into the world of salvage. So, here's my skinny on how to do it well:

1) Make a list of materials that would be useful/ necessary in your current or upcoming projects.
I've seen chandeliers, filigreed door knobs, kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, ceramic tile, bricks, pillars, flooring, windows, door moldings, and dozens of doors in all shapes and sizes. I'm an architechtural history buff, so some of the stuff is just cool to look at. Some salvage warehouses resemble junk yards with broken windows and rust-stained sinks piled in untidy heaps. Others are more like museums with artful displays of architectural treasures. If you have an idea of what you might want to bring home, you're less likely to be overwhelmed by the selection of items.

2) Dress to get dirty.
Most salvage places I've been to are not exceptionally clean. Many resemble construction warehouses, so dress appropriately. In the winter, they can be COLD and I really like my gloves!

3) Take measurements or floor plans with you. Oh yeah, and a tape measure.
You have no idea what you will find. And when you find it, you'll have no idea if it will fit if you don't have measurements with you. They may have a tape you can borrow, but it's easier to bring your own. If you are trying to match something, take it with you- even if it's just a sample.

4) Be flexible in your measurements and plans, if you can.
I know you can't just wave a wand and make a room bigger (but wouldn't that be a neat trick?)
But, if you have flexibility, you are much more likely to be able to use that perfect piece that's only about foot shorter than you were envisioning.

5) Take a digital camera with you.
Don't be shy about taking pictures. You may not bring the perfect piece home with you today. But you might want to look at it again- while you are standing in the room you are working on. Pictures make it easier to compare options as well.

6) Take notes.
If you find the perfect piece, write down the measurements- and anything else you notice while looking it over, including the price. Then, when you get home, you have all the information you need to share with fellow decision-makers.

7) Ask the workers for assistance.
Many know their items very well. Some may even know the story behind what you are looking at. (Which can be a very cool conversation piece when it's in your living room!)

8) Be prepared to take some time to look around.
This usually isn't a quick in-and-out endeavor, so don't go when you are on a tight schedule.

9) Bargain!
Warehouses run by demolition contractors often have overstocks of lavatory sinks and other common items. Go ahead and make an offer!

10) Some salvage centers do not operate 9 to 5 hours. Always call before making the trip.

11) Take a big truck.

If you find something you absolutely have to have, you should take it with you. Most salvage places are first-come, first-served. Some may hold a piece for 24 hours if it is paid for, but you may want to take it then and there.
OR, on the other hand, if you want to make sure that all you do is look, take the smallest vehicle possible. Better yet, ride a bike with no basket.

12) Be prepared to come up empty.
I don't find the perfect piece for the perfect price every time I look for salvage. I'm fortunate enough to live in an area with a lot of salvage choices nearby, so I can check often. Items at salvage locations change all the time. Keep looking, and you're more likely to find what you are looking for.

How to find salvage building materials:

  1. Search online directories for Architectural Salvage in your area- see my list below.
  2. Check the yellow pages of your local telephone directory for Building Materials - Used, or Salvage and Surplus. In the Twin Cities area, my favorite salvage places are here.
  3. Phone Demolition Contractors. Ask where they take their salvaged building materials.
  4. Contact your local historic preservation society. Ask about salvagers who specialize in antique building parts. Some historical societies operate nonprofit salvage warehouses and other services for old-house restoration themselves.
  5. Use the Internet. View photographs and inquire about shipping costs.
  6. Take advantage of online messsage boards and forums for buying, selling and trading.
  7. Keep an eye on garage sales, estate sales and auctions.
Online Salvage Sites:

Architectural Parts Warehouse
You don't have to live in the northeastern USA... You can shop for architectural parts online.
Architectural Salvage, Inc.
Buys, sells, and trades old house parts in New Hampshire, one hour north of Boston. Web site includes catalog of offerings.
Architectural Salvage Warehouse
Buys and sells salvage rights to old buildings. Mantels, doors, windows, hardware, plumbing, and more. Warehouse in Vermont.
Beyond Waste
Buys and sells used building parts, and manufactures flooring, wainscotting, and baseboard from reclaimed lumber. Santa Rosa, California.
Chicago Antique Brick
Original antique Chicago bricks, shipped via truck or rail.
D. Litchfield Demolition
Offers demolition, used building materials, and recycling ideas. Salvage yard and antiquities shop in the Vancouver, British Columbia area.
Historic House Parts
Online store selling architectural salvage and vintage and reproduction building parts. Plumbing fixtures, mantels, lighting, radiators, doors, windows, hardware, and more. Based in Rochester, NY.
Olde Good Things
Original hardware and doorknobs, mantels, doors, iron, lighting, bronze, brass, columns, corbels, stones, stained glass and more. Warehouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Recycler's Exchange
An information exchange for anyone who would like to buy, sell, or trade materials or equipment. Some lumber and building materials are listed.
Whole House Building Supply
California contractor Paul Gardner holds house demolition sales. View photos on the Web, visit the warehouse in Palo Alto, CA, or bring your own tools and take apart buildings scheduled for demolition

Site list from Jackie Craven at

Friday, December 15, 2006

Bath, Shath, Sh-Bath, SHOWER!!!!!!!!!!!!

Since we moved, we have had only a bathtub. A beautiful original iron clawfoot tub. With only a hand-held shower head attached to the tub faucet. (Note to friends: I don't count that tiny shower stall in the basement that makes me claustraphobic.)
So, I have gotten used to taking baths... or shaths (standing up in the bathtub, using the handheld shower and trying not to spray all over the room), or even sh-baths (letting the bathtub fill as for a bath, but using the handheld shower to rinse-- not to be confused with "shabbat", which is the Jewish sabbath). Yes, this is the language we have developed to descibe our daily cleansing routines.

In the "olden days," people just took baths- showers didn't really exist.
But nowadays, baths seem like such a luxury item to me. Namely because they take up so much of another luxury item: time. Now, I'm not complaining that I have been forced to light some candles, put some bubbles in the tub, and just relax- it is, no doubt, good for me and my psyche.

But really, there are times when a bath is simply not convenient. Like when you have finished sanding the drywall seams on the ceiling and you just want to get it all out of your hair. Or when you are running late to work and you realize that you aren't as, well, "spring-fresh" as you would like to be.

Then, there is nothing better than a nice, hot shower. A REAL shower. One where you can let the hot water run all over you and NOT have to hold a spigot in place, or worry about the damage all the spray will cause the walls.

Well, I'm happy to announce that this showering phenomenon is now made possible in our house by ... (drumroll, please)... the addition of the fabulous, miraculous shower riser, shower rod surround, and not one, but TWO shower curtains! (whew!)

Whoever knew that these contraptions were such a pain to install?
Probably my first mistake: I tackled the project myself.
Stay tuned to the next post for that adventure....

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Love in concrete...

Awww.... yes, in the midst of all the debris and chaos, we're still madly in love. When he covered the old floor drain, Sean made our mark- the first of its kind- in our new home together. We've found all sorts of marks and memories from the families who have lived here in the past, and it's kind of cool to think about someone finding memories of us here someday in the future. (Hopefully we'll keep the house standing until then!)
Sean also did the doggie's paw prints, which I also found super-cute. Don't ask me how he got the cement off their paws.... :)

Monday, December 11, 2006

a BIG hole in the house!!

We now have a big hole in the basement!! We also have a 3-ft-deep whole in the yard!! Why am I so excited about big holes in the property? It's one step closer to having the egress window!! For the record, the hole in the house is 36" by 50," and we cut through an 18.5" thick 100-year-old limestone foundation. The tool of choice was a jackhammer, since the concrete saws available for rental would only cut 5" deep.
Sean used the jackhammer to loosen chunks, and then we hammered them out and away.
Surprisingly, this only took a couple of hours. The bad news, though, is the cut was not as clean as we had hoped. So, Sean is going to try his hand at a little masonry today, pouring concrete to smooth out and even the frame so we have something to screw the window framing into.
Here's some great how-to information for anyone who is thinking about installing an egress window themselves:
How to install the window well
How to install the egress window
(This was the best information I found on the topic!)

Even though it feels like the finished product is still a long way off, we are making progress.

Friday, December 08, 2006

How to SAVE on your remodel/ restoration

Everyone's got a list these days. Here's mine:
Ways we found to save on some of our remodel projects so far:

1) Salvage, salvage, salvage. Got a yellow pages? Try for your area. Search for "architechtural salvage" or "building material" to find places near you that salvage. Or try the web- many salvage places have decent websites.
I could write a whole entry on how to salvage (and maybe I will), but here's a note for beginners: Be flexible in your plans. Sometimes you'll need to alter them, depending on what you find. Finding good value in salvage can take time and be hit-or-miss... be prepared to hunt, to find some items that are WAY over-priced, to bargain, and to come up empty sometimes. But the real bargains you find make it worth it. My favorite salvage places are here.

Biggest bargain so far: Solid 5-panel door with hardware: $17.77
Close second: Solid crystal door knob (and hardware) to match the others in the house: $10

2) Got an IKEA near you?Check out their "as-is" section for items 50% off or more. It changes all the time. Call ahead or ask the staff when they will be changing displays, especially for kitchens. Everything in their displays goes to their "as-is" section, as do many returns. They are a good source for materials, as their "odds and ends" go to the "handyman's corner" at rock-bottom prices. Wednesdays are good days to check.

Other places to check for bargains:
Room and Board weekend outlet- tabletops and countertops, hardwood to use for material
Menard's clearance section- every department has their own, and you have to look for it
A "Building Surplus" outlet- we have several in the Twin Cities- look in the yellow pages or ask
around to find one near you.

Biggest bargain so far: 8 ft. of countertop for $26.00
Close second: A hardwired four-light fixture: $1 (a return with no box).

If you haven't checked out yet, it's time. It's a free listing service for just about anything. I haven't hired anyone from craigslist, but I have found great bargains from real people who just need to get rid of stuff. The listings change daily (obviously) and you sometimes have to act fast, or the good stuff is gone- especially in the "free" section. People often list "free" odds and ends of building material, or list leftovers very cheaply. I have also found good listings for appliances and cabinets. It's also good for getting rid of YOUR stuff!

I got a 2-yr old Kenmore portable dishwasher that had barely been used for $150. We also are looking for gas stoves and have seen several newer models for $150 or less! That's 1/4 of the price for something new.

4) Trade skills.
What do you know how to do well? Find friends who have other skills and trade them. Don't think you have any valuable skills? Learn one! Take a community education class or attend aworkshops at Home Depot, then practice at home. But pick something you think you'll like- this is what you'll be doing for others. There are many skills that you can gain that will save you a bundle: Painting, wallpaper, drywall, basic plumbing... even demolition work, cleaning, organizing, and yard/garden work can be good trades!
NOTE: When you trade work, it's helpful to talk about exactly what each person will (and won't) do as a part of the bargain, and also what you will do if something goes wrong. You want to keep your friends, after all.

We rely on skills of family and friends, and they rely on us. We've established a good "bartering" network that has probably saved us thousands.

5) Do the work you know how to do yourself- and then hire out only the pieces you don't know how to do.
Things like demolition and finishing work are time consuming, and they take more elbow-grease than skill. If you can tackle a demo or do the final painting, you will save. You can also save by doing the shopping yourself and having all the materials on hand. Good contractors will work with you on this.

We helped our house painter paint the trim and siding that was within reach on a 6-ft. ladder. He did all the work up high (3-story house) and all the difficult scraping, but we saved a lot of time by helping with what we could reach on our own time.

6) Get at least 4 estimates on contracted work.
Yes, it takes time to get estimates. But it also can save you in the long run. Do your homework so you know exactly what needs to be done, and also what doesn't. Ask for an itemized bid with costs broken down, so you can compare apples to apples. Ask each person how they will do the work, and listen closely.

Bids for our new roof varied by as much as $8,000. Tree work bids varied by almost $500. Bids for new windows varied by $5000. We didn't necessarily take the lowest bid on every job, but we saved a ton by having several good choices.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Basement Kitchen Floor w. Platon

Although the p.o. said there were no problems with water in the basement (of course), we found puddles in the basement kitchen after heavy summer rains. So, we knew that we needed to solve that problem before we rented it out. When we tore up the old vinyl floor, we discovered an old floor drain that hadn't been sealed up. Could this be the cause of our water? Since most of the pools happened right around the drain, we think it's a good possibility. We closed that up with cement, and then we chose to subfloor with Platon subflooring.
* NOTE: It's WAY cheaper than "Dri-core"! *

With the newly covered drain, a subfloor, and a good dehumidifier, we hope that any water issues are taken care of!

Man, was it ever fun to level a 100-year old basement floor slab! (sigh).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Basement Demo

The basement of the house was finished circa 1975. Now, hop into your time machine, and you'll see that 1975 was a year for asbestos floor tile, wood paneling, and shag carpet. So, it goes without saying: Some things about the basement had to go.
Sean and his brother, Jarame, took a day to haul up old vinyl flooring (covering the old asbestos flooring), old carpet, an old gas stove, etc, etc, to get it ready for a remodel.

Here's what's left of the mess:
The hope is that we will rent the basement out, and that income will help us fund some of the other projects we have dancing around in our heads....
The to-do list for the basement includes:

1) Sub-floor everything to help with any potential water problems
Our method: Platon Flooring Protection (can be purchased at Menards), then covered with plywood

2) Install our new laminate wood floor on top

3) Update the light fixtures, replacing the older fixtures with new recessed incandescent lights

4) Insulate the ceiling

5) Add soundproof barrier to the ceiling (after all, it is an old house, and we want to use this as a rental space for now- maybe a home theater later???)
Our sound barrier choice: Mass-loaded vinyl from Sound Isolation Company
This is HEAVY stuff. We had to construct a holder to get it up to the ceiling and hold it there long enough to attach it. But we think it will be worth it in the long run.

6) Finish the ceiling with ceiling panels

7) Add an egress window

8) Paint all the walls everywhere

Basment kitchen:

1) Replace galvanized plumbing to the basement kitchen

2) Install new cabinets from IKEA (After spending a day looking at six different salvage places, new cabinets from IKEA came out on top in price, believe it or not. I'm still a little mixed on that, but it's a basement kitchen after all. We opted for the Nexus-Birch finish.) IKEA tip: If you have an IKEA near you, don't forget to check out the "as-is" section. There's a potential for HUGE savings. We got a countertop there for 1/2 off, and if we would have had more time to be creative, we could have saved even more!

3) Find and install a new gas stove

4) Plumb the dishwasher

5) Cut and finish a pass through window to open up the space

Basement Bathroom:

1) Move the doorway and seal up the old doorway

2) Paint the new door (found for $17 at the Re-Use center!)

3) Add a can-light to the shower.

Wow. Just writing this list makes me tired. We have a big project ahead of us. Perhaps the biggest yet. Stay tuned...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Master Bedroom Before and After


and After...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dining Room Before and After

The Dining Room needed work. Ok, it still needs work. At some point in the past, the bathtub (located over the dining room) overflowed and wrecked the plaster ceiling. Rather than fix the plaster properly, the previous owners put up a "dropped ceiling" a'la 1970. Sean and I decided that taking that ugly ting down one of our first priorities before we had furniture in the house, since it was likely a very messy proposition.
Since then, Sean has put up new drywall and I have prepped it for tin-ceiling-like wallpaper. I can't wait to check out the copper-brass paint that we got for it! Any tips on hanging wallpaper on a ceiling, anyone??

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Another lumber/ millwork find!

Not that I need to do any shopping, mind you...
with the holidays approaching and some MAJOR car repairs just taking place, I should stay HOME! There's plenty to do there, already anyway.
But, in the spirit of sharing the best places for salvage goodies in the Twin Cities- here's another gem: Family owner- a real old-fashioned lumber yard with TONS and TONS of wood pieces of all kinds.

Siwek's Lumber and Millwork
Located in Northeast Minneapolis at 2536 Marshall St. NE
Minneapolis, MN 612-781-3333

Take a look!!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Cleaning House

Anyone else have trouble keeping track of what used to be the "usual" household chores?
You know- cleaning.
No, not the kind of cleaning that involves the shop-vac and another pile to haul to the dump... I mean we cleaning.
Like, scrubbing bathtubs and toilets and kitchen sinks.

Somehow, those chores seem like small potatoes when you are sheetrocking your dining room ceiling (or something like that).
This weekend, we cleaned. Yes, cleaned.
I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not even sure how long it had been since the toilets had a good scrubbing. We swept the floors and under the beds and into corners and swept up the equivalent of a 3rd dog... it was WAY out of "dust-bunny" league. (It could have eaten our German Shepherd/Lab mix if it would have come to life.)
We cleared off countertops and tables and dusted.
Yes, with a rag and an old-fashioned can of pledge. Even the bottoms and legs of furniture (not just the "uh-oh-we're-having-company" quick swipe!)
This kind of cleaning used to be the weekend ritual. Now, it seems like it all fades into the background, and we reason, "If we can only get (insert project A, B, or C here) done, THEN we can really clean!"
And the projects keep coming.
At some point, I suppose we will learn a better balance. Until then, don't be surprised if a monster-sized dust furball creeps out from under the couch the next time you're over.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

At war with Jack Frost

Yes, it's that time of year again. The 3M window kits are out and ready. Thousands of homeowners are hopeful that one tiny film of plastic will keep out the frigid drafts of Jack Frost. They are wrestling with hairdryers and double-sided tape as we speak.
I am one of them.
Keep in mind, we live in sunny Minnesota, where, although the temperature was freakishly high today (nearly a balmy 70!), it may be -20 tomorrow and stay there until next July.
And, extreme weather calls for extreme measures. At least in the window department.
Before we bought the house, I lived in a 1 bdrm condo with 5 windows. The first year I lived there, I did nothing to the windows. And I froze. Ice-cold floors, drafts that literally moved my mini-blinds inches away from the windows... one winter of that was enough to hook me on window plastic.
At the condo, I could plastic over those five windows in an afternoon with time to spare, easily. And it helped. In fact, I dare say I noticed a radical difference.
So, as a window-plastic convert, there is naturally a big job to be done here at the house. We are at war with Jack Frost. With these 22 bad boys we have here, the 3M plastic party is a ritual that has extended over several lovely, exciting, plastic-film filled weekends.
And we're not just plastic-ing, mind you. Oh no. We've got thick clear vinyl sheets for the laundry room and basement windows... not to mention the upstairs veranda door. (Doesn't all this just make you want to come over and party with us?!)

And don't forget- those four brand new windows that need no plastic-ing what-so-ever! They have newly insulated weight pockets and low E glass.
(as you can see!)

So, if you want to know what I am doing for the next few more weekend or so, it will almost certainly involve those red plaid window kits, and perhaps a hairdryer (although I've mostly given up on that part of it...I've done enough already that if the film isn't tight enough when I'm finished with it, it's not gettin' much better.). But at this point, I would say we have evened the score, Mr. Jack Frost. Bring it on... we'll be ready.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Another "must visit" in Mpls./St. Paul

Wow- two weeks since the last post. Sorry, guys. You know, life and stuff has been happening...
I have one quick item to add to the "must visit" in Mpls/St. Paul list:

Frank Plumbing Sales Co

721 SE 2nd St Minneapolis MN 55414-2202 (612) 338-7609

Apparently, Frank's used to be on Washington Ave. near the warehouse district before they decided to renovate the area into $million$ condos and lofts... it is still alive and well in the new location, although not a lot of press went out about where they moved to. It's a virtual museum for antique plumbing, but also a good resource for replicas too. And they have an assortment of other salvage for rooms besides the bath.
Worth a look!

We finally got a surround for our clawfoot tub there. $40. Not the hundreds we've been seeing. They had the cadillac versions too- the $900 shower riser, faucet, and surround set... but we settled for the budget item this time.
Maybe we'll get more fancy when we actually re-do the bathroom!
I'll get a pic up when we get it hung!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

the Mouse epidemic

In Minnesota, the chill has officially set in. Today it's a toasty 45 degrees, and the ten-day forcast has us in the mid-40's for highs and mid-30's for lows all week. There's no snow *yet* (but you can never tell...).

So, the mice are getting restless. At least, I presume that is what's happening. And, really, I don't blame them. I'd be shivering my bi-jivers off (very technical term that is- "bi-jivers") if I were a mouse out in the cold.

We haven't had any confirmed sightings of mice in the house, but we know they are in the garage. Specifically, we know they are in Sean's F150 (aka "the Beast," or, the work truck.) How do we know? Well, the little mouse droppings on the bucket seat were a great first clue. When we took the truck out of the garage and got rid of all the compost we had been collecting in the bed, we counted not one, not two, but three little critters scurrying around the bed, running for dear life as we pitchforked the compost out. There were probably at least three more that we didn't see. (I thought they were cute and actually felt kind of bad for them. Silly me.)

The next evening:
Since it's chilly, I get to park in the garage now, and we are leaving the F150 on the street. (Isn't Sean the gentleman! :)
So, we decided to do some ho-hum running around... groceries, errands, and the like. We took my car. Fresh out of its newly claimed garage spot. About 1/2 mile into the drive at a stopsign, we see this black flash... a critter scurrying up the windshield from under the hood compartment. YEP! Another mouse! A quick flick of the wipers sent him flying to the street.
Ok, crawling around the truck bed at the compost site, I can take it. Crawling up my window of my car while we're driving is quite a different story. Luckily, this one didn't have any friends with him. Or, at least, none that we found.
But every time I get into the car now, I am half-expecting one to crawl up my pantleg looking for a warm place to snuggle (*shiver*).
Do I feel sorry for them now?
Not so much.

Monday, October 23, 2006

4 NEW windows! See for yourselves...

It is finished. We have four brand-spankin' new Marvin Ultimate Double-Hung replacement windows!! It took about five hours, and we think they look great.

If you haven't been a part of the windows debate, we have been researching replacement and restoration options for our windows for about four months. We finally decided to replace four of the worst ones before winter hit. These were the ones with cracked panes, wood rot, and broken sash cords, among other problems. I know these are all potentially fix-able problems, but the amount of work involved to restore these would have been pretty substantial, and with the Minnesota window breathing down our necks (literally), the 4-window replacement seemed like the best solution.

They weren't that complicated to install... we had these installed for us, but upon observation, we think we would do others ourselves.

These are Marvin Ultimate Double-Hung Insert replacement windows- replacing just the sashes and not the casing or trim, and wood on both inside and out. (I swear I should be getting a kick-back from Marvin for all this. But I'm not.) We are going to paint the outside to match the trim outside and custom-match stain for the inside. (We could have had the installers do this for us... for a fee, of course!)

A nod to the window guy (for any TC locals):
Of the three places we got estimates from, Lampert Exteriors (Roseville) came out cheapest, and we were very happy with their crew. They were timely, professional, and even did a couple of things that were above and beyond the "call of duty" so to speak. Also, I felt like the salesperson was the most "real"- he had good follow-up, but not a hard sell. And he was willing to work with us understanding that we probably weren't going to replace everything... we were likely to do some restoration ourselves.

We do notice a difference in warmth and noise level in the rooms with the new windows. Getting those weight pockets insulated is key. So that's the other project we worked on this weekend: Insulation! Stay tuned.... we are fighting Jack Frost to the death. (and so far it is unclear who is winning!)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The WINDOWS are coming! the WINDOWS are coming!

Note to our house:
The windows are coming. They are friendly windows. Do not be alarmed. Although they are alien to what you know now, they will be good to you. No, they will be good to us. We will be warm. We will not have cracked glass. We will have quiet. And we will still have many more windows that you know and love that have been with you a long, long time. I know this is a big change, so I thought you should know. But there's nothing to be afraid of.
So, the windows are coming. They will be here tomorrow. You will see.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Rejuvenation and other fun places from Portland!

Sorry for my nearly week-long absence… I have been in Portland, OR for a work conference. It turned COLD in the Twin Cities this week, and we are not yet totally weather-proofed. I picked up weather-stripping and 3M window kits before I left, but they did not get in place. As I waited for the bus to the airport on Wednesday, a nearly perfect snowflake landed on my black wool coat. I was pleasantly surprised to arrive in Portland to find the weather sunny and almost 70! Although I was working *most* of the time, I did find time to explore a few great places:

1) Rejuvenation- I had this shopping trip marked in my planner as soon as I knew I was headed to Portland. And it was every bit as good as expected. For those traveling to Portland, this is a MUST. They have both old-house salvage and new replicas of everything old-house. Some of the new replicas are pricey, but they are GORGEOUS. I spent about an hour just pouring through the doors and lighting. Lighting is one of their specialties, and after visiting the store, I see why. They custom-make every fixture, and the options are practically endless. Best of all, they have a great catalog!! We have some great salvage spots in the Twin Cities too, but this one rivaled every one of them. They also have a “books” section with just about every Bungalow book ever written AND a cafĂ©. Family-owned, this is NOT your local “Restoration Hardware”.

2) For knitters- Knit/Purl. Gorgeous handmade luxury yarn. And when I say luxury, I mean $50 per skein (50 yard skein) silk cashmere yarn. Decadent. Yarn eye-candy. Yum. I came away with a little less luxurious- although equally gorgeous- hand-painted yarn for a tote I have been wanting to make.

3) For dog lovers- Urban Fauna. I got “Lolly-pups” and “Pup-cakes”, hand-made treat from the Doggie Barkery.

4) For book-lovers- Powell’s Books. If you like books, just go. You’ll see what I mean.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Favorite Architectural Salvage Places

In the Twin Cities, there are some great places to hunt for salvaged architechtural goods. Here are a few I have had luck with. Some have online inventory and will ship, for folks in other places!

Architectural Antiques
1330 Ne Quincy St MINNEAPOLIS MN 55413-1541
(612) 332-8344
Bauer Brothers
2432 2nd Ave. N Minneapolis MN
(612) 521-9492
City Salvage Antiques
505 First Ave NE Minneapolis
(612) 627-9107
Guilded Salvage Antiques
1315 NE Tyler St Minneapolis MN 55413-1530
(612) 789-1680
Northwest Architechtural Salvage
981 Selby Ave St Paul MN 55104-6533
(651) 644-9270
Re-Use Center
2216 E Lake St Minneapolis MN 55407-1933

Siwek's Lumber and Millwork
Located in Northeast Minneapolis at 2536 Marshall St. NE
Minneapolis, MN 612-781-3333

(612) 724-2608
Wescott's Station Antiques
226 W 7 St ST PAUL MN 55102-2523
(651) 227-2469

Great websites in other locations:
(Do you have a favorite? Add it here!!)

Old House Salvage
3 Mill St, Exeter, NH 03833
(603) 773-5635

Architectural Salvage
614 - 618 East Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202
(502) 589-0670

Olde Good Things
Several locations, with an extensive website and online store.

Salvage Web
An online architectural exchange

Old House Web Guide to Salvage Retailers
An online guide by category

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Onion knows home remodeling...

The Onion knows home remodeling!!
Take a look!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

So, why the sunflower icon?

Since we are taking a break from the work this week and still happily dancing to the plumbing gods, I thought I'd post about something completely different. You might notice that my "icon" as a houseblogger is a sunflower- the same one in the heading of the blog. Choosing an icon was quite a challenge... I mean, how do you "brand" yourself?
I wanted something that held meaning for me, represented my personality, made sense for what I was writing about - all the looked pretty and fit recognizably in a small pixilated square. Piece of cake, right?
It seemed so, since so many other folks have these awesome icons.
After spending several hours just browsing through icons and photos, I landed on the idea of the sunflower.

Sunflowers were my grandfather's favorite flower... the national flower of the Ukraine. My grandfather- probably the most amazing person I'll ever know- built his own house... the house my grandmother still lives in... a few years after he came to this country from the Ukraine.

In Flint, Michigan, he built the foundation and the basement, where the family lived while he finished the rest, framing and hanging drywall after he came home from work at his shift in the factory. For the skills he didn't have, he hired someone, but he stood by to learn how they did the job, and then he finished it himself. He had a family- 3 small children and a wife- and not much money, so he saved wherever he could. But he never charged a neighbor when they needed help fixing a furnace or fixing a leaky pipe. He had an inspiring spirit of determination... of giving...of standing up for what he believed in.
Hmmm... so a sunflower. Represents my history, my family, the things I believe in and hope to acheive...

My icon is the sunflower.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

More pictures of the plumbing project

These are not particularly exciting pictures to probably anyone but me (and maybe Sean), but they document our plumbing day. They are:
1) Our new plumbing on the house side of the water meter
2) Sean doing the bathroom-wall demo
3) The pex-into-pex in the basement
4) The new copper for the bathroom sink.
5) New copper in the basement preparing for the long run of pex
We still have to replace the ceiling in the basement and dining room and close up the access panels in the bathroom and kitchen. Maybe next weekend. I think we're taking the week off.

Why we have water pressure

This is what the galvanized pipes coming out of the house looked like:


I am absolutely amazed that we were getting any water at all through those little-bitty holes.
With our brand-new pipes and super-duper water pressure, we could now wash an elephant.
(I'm still happy-dancing!)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Pex tubing rocks my world.

We finished the plumbing. Yes, that's right. WE FINISHED THE PLUMBING!!!!
(*fireworks and happy dance*).
We started at 10AM, and 12 hours later we had H2O in the bathroom. AND WATER PRESSURE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(*more happy dancing*)
And the verdict is in: I think Pex tubing is the greatest invention since sliced bread.

I had read a lot about it online before we decided to use it, but I didn't find a ton of information from *real* people that have installed it... especially non-plumber type people like me.
For the layman, pex tubing is a flexible type of plumbing pipe that can be used in place of copper. There are special fittings for pex that don't require any soldering or special tools, so basically anyone can put it together. Yes- ANYONE.
Another beautiful thing is that it is flexible, so you can curve it and use fewer connections (Fewer connections = fewer possibilities for leaks!) AND you don't need to cut huge access panels to feed the pipe in!

We needed to replace all of our galvanized supply pipes (hot and cold) from the main line in the basement up to the 2nd floor bathroom. These pipes were the only pipes in the house that hadn't been replaced, and the water pressure to the upstairs bathroom (and the rest of the house in general) was non-existent.
I have a bit of plumbing knowledge... I know how to do basic copper soldering, and I understand the basics behind household plumbing. That means I know what reducers, couplers, and elbows do, and I know what size pipes to use for different applications- All something a quick read of any "Plumbing for Dummies" book could give you. But I'm no plumber.
We did enlist the help of a friend who had done a fair amount of plumbing (Thanks Seth!), which made the job go a lot faster. But I emphasize that, with Durapex and Push 'N Go Fittings, you don't need a large amount of plumbing expertise. The fittings can also be used with copper and in combination with pex and copper.

Note: There are some pex brands that require a tool called a "crimper" and use crimped fittings. If you are going to be doing a lot of plumbing, you might want to take a look at this tool, but it's about $100. Push N Go fittings do NOT require a tool. Also, for consideration- there are only a limited number of sizes for Push N Go fittings. I couldn't find 1 in. fittings, and we had to work with basic sizes for reducers and elbows. We did have enough selection to make the project work, though.

After we turned the water on at the main, we had a couple of leaky joints that worried us. But, it turns out we just hadn't pushed the fittings into the pipe tight enough. You REALLY have to push them in all the way, and it does take a little strength.

We now have about 10 times more water pressure upstairs than we did before. We can actually run the bathroom sink and the tub faucet at the SAME TIME!

Gotta go... I have more happy dancing to do to the plumbing gods.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Stuck-Drawer Treasure?

We have awesome original closets in every bedroom with two drawers underneath. The drawers are deep- perfect for holding sweaters and other bulky items. While we were organizing winter clothing last night, I found one of the drawers in the master bedroom closet had been painted shut. My first thought was what an inconvenience this was. I got the utility knife and prybar (which happened to be handy in the next bedroom from opening painted-shut windows!)
and went to work.
Sean came upstairs, and he asked what we might find in the drawer... after all, the p.o. could have painted it shut with items in it, and then forgot about them.
Hmmm... that idea was intriguing.
She was a fairly eccentric lady.
We've found all kinds of other forgotten "treasures" in the house.
What could she have hidden there?
Sean started working on the other side.
The drawer was quite stubborn. We pried and it stuck.
Would we find more old-house history?
Secret bedroom items?
one million dollars?! (said in my best Dr. Evil voice)
The potential treasure we were sure existed in the drawer grew more and more fantastic.
When it finally gave way a good 20 minutes later, we both sailed halfway across the room from tugging so hard. And we found... empty drawer.
Isn't that anti-climatic.
But, we did note that if we ever want to hide anything in a very safe and secure place, we just
need to put it all in a drawer and seal it with a coat of paint!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Creative Tool Use #478

The house might be winning if....
... you have more tools in the kitchen than you have kitchen utensils.
Let me explain.
Last night, Sean was making dinner... nothing fancy. (When you are working on your house, "fancy" these days is something that requires more than one pot to cook!) The 3 lbs of ground beef we had was frozen, and he didn't want to defrost the whole chunk in the microwave, just to put most of it back into the freezer. There was no knife in sight- no cleaver, no butcher knife...
So he grabbed what seemed like the next most logical item: the coping saw!!
And yes, he proceeded to "cope" the meat apart.
It did the trick, albeit a little unorthodox.
Good thing it'll go in the dishwasher!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

3 down, 6... er, 9, I mean 11.... no, 14 to go!!

How did we get so many windows in this house?! OK, they were there when we bought it, but when you look at a house room-by-room, you don't notice that there are 22 windows in it!! Don't get me wrong. I love our windows.
But there are 22 windows to take storms off, 22 windows to paint, 22 windows to clean, 22 windows to put storms back into- 22 MORE storm windows!!! That's 22 storms to clean....
oh my, oh my.
We got 3 more storms on this weekend- And now that's 14 more to go. We can do two more tonite.

It might seem like a simple task- this putting storms back up. But no- there's quite a process. First we have to locate the correct storm frame (since painter just put them all in the garage in one big heap together)... Find the pieces that go with the frame (since painter let panes and screens come out of frames and didn't put them back together)... Clean the window panes and storm panes... Scrape paint splatters off the windows (because painter was REALLY sloppy)... Scrape extra putty off windows and storm frames (again, painter was REALLY sloppy)... screw the storm frame back into place... put the panes and screens back in the storm (provided we have FOUND all the panes and screen that go back into the storm....)
Ol' man winter- stay clear 'cuz we ain't done yet.
Indian summer- come on!!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Layman's Guide to Fixing Wood Rot

To a house made of wood, wood rot is like like rust on a boat- cancer. It can lurk silently, unnoticed for years, slowly eating away sills, joists, windows, siding...
We found our wood rot when we began painting the house. The scraping process is unforgiving to wood rot- the slightest touch of a scraper to rotten wood sends it crumbling. Luckily, we didn't find much rot in the siding. The window sills and trim boards were another story.

Fixing wood rot isn't hard, but it does take an understanding of important chemical products. And when you go to paint an old house, it is likely that you will find some. (DON'T just paint over it!)
Sean, the carpenter in the house, knew what to do when he saw the rot. Here's my "layman's guide":
Tools you will need:
* Wood Hardener or "Penetrant"
* Epoxy Filler
(see description and recommendation of brands below)
* Rubber gloves
* Disposible containers for mixing products
* Putty knife
* Sandpaper/ Sander
* Paint to finish
Products that restore rotted, severely damaged wood components are especially valuable for parts that cannot be replaced because of size, shape or other reasons. They are also helpful for parts that are particularly difficult to replace- like window sills.
Here's the chemical lingo:

The penetrant:
Reinforces, rebuilds, water- and insect-proofs wood by hardening after penetrating. Halts rot in windowsills, frames, structural and decorative parts, furniture, boats, columns, floors.

Epoxy fillers:
Like a structural adhesive putty and wood replacement compound. They are a high-strength no-shrink adhesive paste to fill, repair and replace wood and other materials in structures, walls, floors, furniture, sculptures. They are unaffected by water and insects.

Wood Rot Products:
Abatron's LiquidWood and WoodEpox
Advanced Repair Technology Inc.
Rot Doctor's Penetrating Epoxy and FILL-IT™ Epoxy Filler

The steps:

1) First, why is there rot in the first place? Check for the obvious - roof and plumbing leaks, and missing or punctured flashing. Look for stains and drip tracks caused by ice dams. Are eaves wide enough to prevent water from cascading down sidewall's? Are gutters poorly maintained or missing? Do finish grades slope towards or away from the foundation? Are foundation cracks admitting water? Is untreated wood in direct contact with concrete, masonry, or soil? Finding and treating the source of the rot is as important as fixing the structure.

2) Find out how bad the rot is. Take a scraper or knife and gently tap the rot until you get to solid wood. It's important to know how much rot you have and make sure you have an area appropriate for fixing. What's appropriate? When you take a look at the prices of the epoxies and penetrants, you'll get a sense of that! ;) (Our pics also give you an idea). If it's a really big section of rot, you will probably need to replace, rather than repair. If it is rot on a serious structural piece if the house (Joists, for instance), also consider replacement. If replacement is necessary and only part of a board is rotted, you can also cut and replace only that portion of the board to save materials and money.

3) Once you have the rot cleared away, you will need to apply the wood hardener, or penetrant, to all the remaining wood to stop the rot. Read the instructions of the product carefully. This needs to absorb and set, usually for about a day.

4) After you have hardened the wood, you are ready to apply the epoxy. Again, read the instructions for the epoxy you choose. This is where the mixing comes in, as most of them come in two parts and need to be mixed to harden. Use gloves! Apply the epoxy and work it into the shape of the wooden structure you are fixing. It's a little like working with playdough...

5) Let the epoxy dry- also about a day- before sanding. Sand it into the final shape, and it is ready for painting.

Voila! New wood. (Sort of.)

Wood Rot Resources (Highly Recommended!):
Restoring wood with epoxy
Wood rot repair