Monday, December 15, 2014

Let's Rejoist!

Most people say that in life only death and taxes are certain. Things can always be "certain" depending on what the situation is. Well this situation is working on an old 1920's Tudor style house. While working on a 1920's Tudor style house 3 things are certain, a home project will never go as planned, it takes infinitely longer to fix something than it does to break it, and even if it was done the proper way in the past it may need to be fixed in the future.

Clearly from our blog it is evident that we have done a large amount of work to our property. Not just the boring slap some paint on here, put this detail trim there, and change that light fixture in there. We have had to do some major stuff, for instance install a sump pump and pit. Well another project was fixing some floor joists.

In our house, one of the things that I demanded is that when we start working on it, we work from the bottom up. Meaning we did everything we could to this house to ensure it will last another 100 years, before we did the boring stuff (see definition of boring stuff above). Lucky enough for me, I have a wife that agreed even though she loves that boring detail work. Probably for the first 8 months, if not longer, we spent our time fixing and improving things in the basement. Seriously, we probably went for a year without a single picture on the wall. Which for any men reading this... I can confirm that is about the maximum amount of time your very loving and understanding wife will allow you to get away with not hanging pictures on the walls.

The first thing we did in the basement was just clean the dang thing. Vacuuming between every joist, pulling out every old nail, and getting rid of all the old worthless pipes that some lazy plumber left in random places. Hours were spent just pulling nails alone. Easily half of a 5 gallon bucket was filled with nails.

When you spend all that time doing this, you realize every little thing that is wrong with your house. We found a few things that needed to be addressed immediately; 1 floor joist had significant dry rot and/or termite damage, another had about 3/4 of the joist notched out (thanks joe the plumber for that, seriously the main joist under the tub?), and a third had a crack in it due to a knot. The fixes were simple enough in theory, the first 2 we needed to sister joists to and the 3rd we only needed to bolt some stiffeners on each side to make sure the crack would not get any worse.

*Joist 1: Dry rot joist not pictured before*

Joist 2: 3/4 cut joist:

Joist 3: Crack due to a knot and time:

The dry rot joist was not that bad to sister, it was time consuming though. The first thing we had to do is to pull back any wiring that ran through the joist, simple enough. The next thing we had to do was remove a fair amount of duct work to be able to get the joist fully in place. After that, we began the long process of maneuvering a 2x8 - 12 board into place while feeding it through a stairwell. This was equivalent of putting a square plug in a round hole. You think it may work at first so you try for a while to do it, then finally realize something different must be done. Our "something different that must be done" was just taking the sawzall and cutting a hole in the wall. At this point we actually dry fit the joist into place, and it went into place quite nicely. We took it out and used construction adhesive on the joist, and nailed them together. Joist 1 done.

The "joe the plumber joist" took about just as long. The electrical was pulled already due to the other joist. However this time around, there was an old return that was not taken out when it was removed. We quickly found out why the HVAC guy did not remove it, it was probably one of my least favorite encounters with sheet metal my entire life and took about 2 hours to fully remove. This time without the stairs in our way we had a easy path to feed the new joist into place. However, this dry fit attempt did not work. The old joist had bowed too much that we could not get it into place. So we got creative and raised the joist with a car jack and 2x4 to slide the new joist in. With a little love and small tools it worked, by "little love" I mean Brooke banging it with hammers into place (so it would be flat against existing joist) and by "small tools" I mean me using a 20 lb sledge to drive the new joist like a nail the length of the existing joist. This joist was glued and nailed as well. Joist 2 done.

The final joist with the crack was the easiest to fix. The crack was not that bad, maybe 2 inches long. If I thought the crack would not get any worse I would not have done anything, but that was not the case. I used my trusty 2x4 and car jack again to get the beam up and make sure it was level. 

Once it was level, I cut a 2x8 -10 in half. Then I screwed the 2 boards together in a couple places. Next, I drilled 8 1/2" holes for the bolts that I would be using to secure these pieces in place, making sure the holes were not lined up perfectly with one another to help keep the wood from splitting. Next I took one piece glued and screwed it in place, then used the hole in that piece to guide the drill, to drill through the existing joist. 

Once that was done, I simply tightened the bolts with to secure the second board (with glue as well). Joist 3 done.  


*Note: This also fixed a squeak in the floor above*

Now, this isn't a glamorous post, but having the peace of mind that our home innards are structurally sound is the most important thing. more “Let's Rejoist!”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"Quick" Weekend Tiling

My parents have helped Matt and me out a tremendous amount the past couple years.  Since they own several rental homes that they are always trying to improve, their own house can get neglected as a non-priority sometimes.  We all know that feeling, right?  So last weekend over Thanksgiving weekend, Matt and I offered to tile their bathroom for them which they had already bought tile for.  Surprisingly, this gorgeous tile came from Costco - not your normal home improvement stop!

Matt and my goal was to have this old laminate gone and the new bathroom tile job done in two days.  The bathroom before:

However, we always seem to run into troubles as almost no DIY home improvement projects can go exactly as planned.  Once we ripped off all the laminate, we discovered a problem (which my parents had already suspected might be a problem).  The toilet had been leaking; but it had been leaking for so long that the sub floor was completely rotted out.  

We first sprayed the black mold with bleach and then cut out the sub floor around the toilet ring and replaced it with brand new plywood (which included re-framing under the floor so the plywood had something to attach to).  

Next, we checked for squeaks around the floor (which can be fun cause we just bounced around the floor) and tightly screwed down the sub floor in any area that had slight squeaks.  If you ever are re-doing a floor of any kind, I highly recommend remembering to do this step!  It's your only chance to fully get rid of those annoying floor creeks.

We then had to shorten the door trim since a layer of concrete backerboard and tiling would be raising the floor higher than before.  We lucked out that the door was already short enough that we didn't have to trim that down.  The piece cut off on the door trim shows how much the floor is raised with backerboard and the tile dry fitted to fit perfectly underneath the trim.

The backerboard is extremely simple to put down as there are even grooves in each location where a 1 1/4" #10x hardi backer screw should be placed.  The hard part here is cutting this concrete board.  It's not easily scored with something like a utility knife.  The easiest way we have found to cut it is with a grinder.  If anyone else out there has a better way to cut this, let us know!!  *Update: A savvy reader says installing the blade backwards on a circular saw results in a clean cut*

The next step is sort of two fold.  Choosing your starting point for the first line **this is crucial as if the first line is messed up/not square, then everything else will end up not square**.  At the same time we were dry fitting to find our starting point; my mom also had to decide how she wanted the tiles laid (brick pattern, perfect grid, staggered, etc).  

She decided, with our agreeing opinion, to go with a 1/3 staggered pattern.  Note that we also have the tile threshold placed in the doorway ready to go (pictured above) and also mortared into placed joint tape in between the two backerboards (not pictured).  We were finally ready to tile!  We mixed our mortar, cut our tile, and started laying tile with one of our favorite new tools for tiling... the QEP Tile Leveling spacer and clips.  The reason we used these are because we were working with such big tile in a small space.  Larger tile is truly harder to install than smaller 12"x12" tiles.  Watch a YouTube or Home Depot's video on how they work, it's pretty baller.  You can see the level spacer system below.

This is what poor Matt looked like from the tile cutter.

We cleaned up the tile (and ourselves) and let it sit overnight.  The next morning we kicked all of the clips off, grouted, and cleaned again.

We installed the toilet with a new wax ring and the vanity sink.  My parents had a working bathroom again!

Now we just need to convince them to update the vanity and cabinet . more “"Quick" Weekend Tiling”

Monday, December 1, 2014

Building firepits

I am not a huge fan of cold weather, but there are definitely perks that can come from it.  The best thing about the temperatures dropping is bonfires!  Nothing beats talking around a fire with friends and family roasting marshmallows for some good ol’ s’mores.  In honor of how much Matt and I love bonfires, this week’s blog post is about the fire pit we built at our rental (which I’m super jealous of – we don’t even have one at our house).  Here is our lovely fire pit we built last month! 

We had an awkward hole in the flagstone patio in the backyard since we took out the un-level, poorly constructed fountain that was previously there.  It was a no brainer what we should put in its place – a bonfire pit!  Before picture of the hideous hole and backyard:

Since we wanted to match the same landscaping d├ęcor we had throughout the yard, we went with the mixed red/charcoal Windsor stone concrete retaining wall block found at Home Depot for $1.80/piece.  Plus, as I am signed up for all Home Depot Garden Club e-mails, they constantly send out coupons for $5 off of $50 or $10 off of $100 for Lawn & Garden purchases.  I highly recommend you sign up for these deals if you enjoy saving money (I hope everyone enjoys saving money…)!
Bonfire pits should typically have an inside diameter of 36-44".  Since we were retrofitting a fire pit in a pre-existing hole, we lucked out that our pit was the perfect size.  First, we had to dig at a minimum 12”x12” deep hole in the center of the pit for drainage and then tamped the dirt.  Next, we filled with drainage rock and leveled the rock for the retaining wall blocks to be placed. 

Once again, we tamped.

Then we placed the first row of blocks around the edge making sure each block was level front to back and side to side.  Leveling blocks on rocks is not fun...  

Kept building up the rows to desired height.

As a last note, we also made sure there were ventilation spaces on the bottom row for air flow.

Now we are ready to enjoy this cool weather (and s’mores ;)).  As a little perk: Try using Reese’s instead of Hershey’s.  It’s delicious!

Check out Mending the Fence and Grass is Always Greener for how we built the fence and laid sod! more “Building firepits”

Thursday, November 20, 2014


In a house there always seems to be a "cold room."  Sometimes it's a room with big crappy windows, sometimes it's a basement, and sometimes it's an old porch that was turned into a sunroom.  The latter situation is one I had to deal with.  Every late fall through early spring, we had a door (seen below) leading to our sunroom that would remain closed because it was simply too cold.   

While I was running new wiring in September/October timeframe, I was constantly going in the blistering hot attic to trace some wires down or demo them out completely.  I was finally to the front of the house for the wiring; this meant an even further joist walk from the back of the house to the front.  I had to make my way for a drop that was a shared wall of the sunroom and living room. To my surprise, when I got there, there was no insulation to be found anywhere on the ceiling of the sunroom.

Now normally you would assume first thing, cold room = crappy insulation.  I could assure that for the rest of the house this was not the case as there was about 10 inches of blown insulation everywhere.  Also from the view  into the attic it appeared there was insulation blown in there as well.  I cannot tell you how angry I was when I realized the 2 cold winters we had in this room were for no reason whatsoever.
Installing insulation is fairly easy, anyone could do it.  Add insulation.  Done. That's how simple it really is.  The stuff that is important however is where are you putting it? Does it need to be faced/unfaced?  Should I just get a blower and blow some in?  Should I get really fancy and get sprayfoam?
I was adding it in a ceiling where we had access from the attic.  This type of application is slightly different.  First, since it was a small area about 90-100 sq. ft., I just chose to use rolls of fiberglass insulation.  Second, since I was running the insulation right to the roofline, I needed to add baffles so the roof can still breathe properly.  The baffles, I assume, are where most DIY people would go wrong, this is very important for your roof.  Your roof needs to breathe or your new 30 year roof just became a 20 year roof.  You can see some of the installed baffles here: 

Next is actually installing the rolls, the first layer is faced.  The faced side of the insulation is always installed to the warm side in the house.  Then when you add the next layer of insulation (if you so choose), run it perpendicular to the first and make sure it is unfaced.  If you have 2 faced layers, moisture could be trapped between the layers and no one wants a moldy attic.

Now that worthless sunroom for winter is useable space year round.  Instantly, you could tell a difference in the room.  So yeah, we spent $100 on insulation and baffles, but adding 100 usable sq. ft. year round is more than worth it.
Finished product! more “INSULATION FOR THE WIN(ter)!”

Friday, November 14, 2014

Baseboards Are Not My Friend

We are in love with our local hardware store called Sutherlands.  They have a Ladies Night once a year where everything in the store is 20% off and the store is filled with vendors trying to sell various products.  We like to stock up on items that we know we will need whenever this sale is going on.  Unlucky for me, Matt was gone on a business trip when they had this sale this past year.  This left me all by my lonesome picking up tons of tools and products.  Let me tell you, being a young girl by myself in a hardware store, I got plenty of weird looks by vendors.  On the bright side none of the vendors even bothered to talk to me since they figured ‘what could a young girl like that know about renovations?HA – little did they know!  That left me with my huge list of items to pick up and no distractions.

Our big buy this past year was to buy new baseboards for our entire house.  All the baseboards in our house had ~4 layers of paint that were in rough shape with globs of paint dripped on them and lots of scratches and nicks.  Since there was nothing special about the baseboards in the house, we decided to buy brand new.  *Although, at first, I fought Matt saying I wanted to save the baseboards and strip them down to the original conditions.  I quickly changed my mind when he showed me how much of a time waster that would be (not to mention lead paint!).*   So, my task was to pick up all these baseboards - I didn’t see a problem with this at first, but, oh boy, was I in for a treat.  I started to get nervous as I was picking out 12’ long baseboards into my cart with one of the store associates, thinking to myself ‘these things are awkward and heavy when I’m just picking them up one at a time, and I have to bring almost 30 into our house by myself! Loading them up into my truck wasn’t too bad as the store loaders helped.  Then I got into my car and started panicking: ‘Oh crap, how am I going to get these into the house!? I wish I could just leave them in my truck but I have to go to work in the morning… Call in sick? Nah.  This was my sight: 
It was pitch black and I decided to tackle this head on.  I overzealously thought to myself ‘I can carry 4 at a time who cares that they are only more than double my height’. I completely wiped out (butt on the ground) just trying to get them into our front door...  I still had to maneuver them through the entry way, living room, and into the dining room.  Next trip I tried 3 at a time and was still wobbling all over the place.  I finally wised up and decided to tackle 2 at a time which seemed to work.  It only took me about an hour… but finally they were all sitting in our living room.  MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. 
Lesson learned: all project are easier with 2 sets of hands.  I need to remember not to take Matt for granted even with such easy tasks! 
Just for fun this is the difference between the old basboards (left) and new baseboards (right):
The finished dining room project can be seen at 50 Shades of Gray - okay maybe like 4 or 5. more “Baseboards Are Not My Friend”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Our Sump Pump Jump

Installing a sump pump into a house that never had one is an extremely messy job!  Our first house, built in 1926, had a wee bit of water problems.  We had all the confidence that we could fix it ourselves – and we did.  First we filled in the mortar joints that had come loose in our cinder block foundation with hydraulic cement.  Since we plugged up holes where water used to come in, we only had water seep up through the floor – but we were also still worried about the water pressure on the house.  Thus, the best solution for both these issues was to install a sump pump.

We had quoted a contractor to install a sump for us, and it would have cost us $1500.  So big shocker, after hearing that number, we decided to do the work ourselves.  The materials ended up costing us a whopping $250.  That’s $1250 in savings and I would say it was well worth tackling this project by ourselves – even if it was a dirty job.

Matt and a good friend Jeremy tackled the work from here on out.  They first used a jack hammer and concrete saw to cut a hole in the basement concrete floor where the sump would go.  Matt had to install a breaker just for these tools as they draw so much power.  This is the lovely temporary power solution for 30A service.

After all the concrete was out, it was just a lot of digging…


 The hole was finally big enough for the mesh and drainage rock to go in.

Matt drilled holes in the sump well for water to seep through.

And voila we were ready for concrete.

 Side note: a different corner in our basement had horrible cracks, so we decided to rip out the concrete and lay new concrete while we were doing the sump.  Yay for pretty, new, concrete and no cracks (seen in the left corner of the room)!

And this is the lovely pile of dirt we were left with...

Matt and I removed the dirt and concrete in 60 (Yes, sixty!) 5 gallon bucket loads and it was a happy sight seeing a clean room and empty buckets.

By the next day, we had 12” of water in the sump which means it’s working!

Next we had to core-drill through the wall for the discharge piping for the pump to spit out the unwanted water.

At last, here is the completed, working, sump pump! #DIYwin more “Our Sump Pump Jump”