Tag Archives: House

We’re breaking up

Sometimes in life, you try and try to make something work but it just doesn’t.  Sometimes you find things that just aren’t worth pushing.  Sometimes you just have to end it.  We’ve gone to great lengths to fix things or mess with them to make it all work differently, but, at our wits end, we see no other course but to break up…the concrete of course.

I got some more stuff last night to try to fix the low spots.  One thing I got was a new level that would be large enough to span enough distance but no so large that I couldn’t put it crossways in the bathroom (so I got a 2 foot long level).  As I laid it all sorts of ways across the floor, I really started to see just how badly screwed up the concrete was.  No small patch was going to fix this issue.  The only solution in its current state would be to add another level of self-leveling concrete and hope it worked better.  Um…heck no.

Breaking up is hard to do...

Being a stubborn SOB (no offense Mom), I decided that there was no way this floor was going to beat me.  Luckily I have just the tool to remedy the situation.  Several months ago (years if you ask Emily), I started chipping concrete/plaster off of the walls of our office.  For that job, I bought a handful of new cold chisels.  They paid off once again.

The concrete mixer...isn't it cool?

I spent a good bit of time (and yes, more cussing) breaking up the screwed up concrete so I can go about this mess in an entirely different way.  The floor wasn’t too bad to start.  Once I get this concrete removed, I am going to manually level the few spots that aren’t even with regular portland cement or some other floor patch (not sure which yet) and move on.  Call this a $50 education for me I guess.  Education is always money well spent, right?

Well, I hope you can use my experience before you are faced with the same situation…breakups really really suck!

Neil has some thoughts on it too:

Let me level with you

I have been working on our house for…well, for as long as we’ve owned it. It’s a bit of a money-pit fixer-upper and I have enjoyed doing most of the work.  The one thing that makes it all interesting though, is that it is neither square nor level…and not even close.

We have three bathrooms (thank goodness!) and it seems like one is always torn up for one reason or another.  Anyhow, I have been working on the one in the lowest level and am ready to lay tile.  In preparation, I checked the existing floor for low spots, high spots, spotted newts, see spot run, and giant red spots.  Unfortunately, I had several of these.  One can lay tile on a goofed up floor, but the goofs either break tiles or look like someone who knows nothing about laying tile laid the tile.

Not wanting to look like an amateur, I knew I had to fix unevenness of the floor.  I have never used self-leveling concrete before (I AM and amateur, I just don’t want to LOOK like an amateur), but I knew it was the solution for all of my floor-spot-related woes.  The idea is that one pours a somewhat thin layer of special concrete and then watch in amazement as the concrete covers the floor and dries to a smooth, level surface.  Sounds easy, right?

The blue primer drying

Well, mostly it is.  Let me back up…first I had to paint a primer over the bare floor so that the floor would look more blue.  I am not certain that it really did anything else, but I gotta tell you, it did a great job of making my floor more blue…so, it was a huge success!  The blue primer finally dried (Emily watched as I napped…she wasn’t about to let me sleep a minute longer than necessary…she wants this project done!) and I stumbled downstairs to mix the concrete.

Self-leveling concrete...still wet and almost smooth

Back when we first got the house, we bought a huge stirrer that you use with your drill.  It’s built to mix in a 5 gallon bucket.  We tried omelets a few times but it never seemed to taste right out of the bucket so we use it only for mixing paint and concrete now.  Normally, concrete is mixed in a bathtub or a wheelbarrow or something like that with a hoe and child labor.  The drill-mixer is not usually used for concrete, but the directions called for it specifically (good thing I pre-bought that tool!)  So I mixed a 50-lb bag of the stuff following th directions and then I spread it over the floor.  I had to move it around with a large float I made from old wood scraps.  That seemed pretty reasonable.  I didn’t expect to pour a bunch of concrete out and have it magically float evenly over the entire floor.

Dried concrete...almost level

The next part bugs me a little though.  I smoothed the concrete over the floor and had it pretty smooth.  To me, “self-leveling” meant that the stuff would flow evenly across the surface and sort of absorb imperfections in the floor…the low spots and tiny imperfections and such.  At first, it did appear that it was going to behave.  As time went on, however, it became clear that it wasn’t going to work quite like that.

The tile laid out...just begging to be installed...

I cussed it thoroughly and the floor mostly leveled as it hardened (and it hardened quickly), but it is by no means, perfect.  So, in the next day or so, I am headed back to the home improvement store to get some more self-leveling concrete to patch the few screwed up spots.  Part of my problem may be that I got rapid set concrete (not on purpose) rather than extended set…I won’t make that mistake again.

So let me warn you very clearly…if you ever use self-leveling concrete, be sure you have it pretty smooth/level as soon as you can…I’d hate for you to have to cuss your floor like I did!

White as snow…and not just outside!

Like lots of folks in the East, we got a bunch of snow last weekend.  Actually, compared to what many folks got, our foot of snow hardly compares.  Still, there are folks around here who are without power and may be until after Christmas.  I guess when I think of it, we are pretty lucky in regard to this storm.  Since we had nothing important to do and because we still have heat, I guess we all sort of enjoyed the snow.  It surely put me in the Christmas mood (even though it is supposed to be rainy and in the 50s for Christmas) and gave us all a chance to go outside and try to break bones…I mean sled-ride.  We built a gender-neutral snow-person, complete with a carrot nose (until the squirrels heard the news), and made many snow angels.

(check out the mistle toe!)

I mentioned awhile back (many months I guess…holy cow!) that we’ve been doing some pretty extreme work inside of our house.  Stay with me here…I promise it is related.  We’ve hemmed and hawed, we’ve cussed and dodged and pondered and tried to do just about everything we could to make this project take as long as possible.  Of course, by “we”, I mean “I”, not that there was any doubt.  But now, as weather has turned from wonderful and sunny and nice to Winter, I’ve run out of excuses and had to buckle down and make some sort of progress on the house.

See...it's white!
See...it's white!

We water-proofed the walls on the outside as part of the foundation work we had done this summer.  I added additional water-proofing inside as an insurance policy and so I can satisfy my desire for over-kill.  We added foam-board insulation and studded out new walls from the uninsulated masonry walls.  From there, it was easy to add proper insulation and make the rooms usable.

Well, it's not white but it's new!

So, we’ve been mudding and sanding and mudding and sanding until our house is much like a dessert town after a sand-storm. There is grit and dust everywhere and for some reason, the cat’s fur and kids sock feet haven’t been able to keep up with the dust that has been generated.  That’s all until last night.  Last night, you see, Emily painted the drywall…there will be no more sanding in that room.  The walls are snow white with primer and absolutely look as pretty as I do in my beard…well, actually, a lot better than that…but you get my point!

Hot and bothered…or frigid?

Shortly after we received our first gas bill after moving into our house in WV, we started on the path towards reducing our energy usage.  The house was built in 1939 which is apparently before anyone invented insulation as our house had absolutely none.  I have been tearing things apart and installing new insulation in every nook and cranny.  We have replaced and sealed most of the windows and all of the little entries into the house, we replaced the ancient furnace with a new, high-efficiency one and we have installed CFLs everywhere.  It has made a significant difference in our energy bills so has been well worth the effort.

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The family room, office and lower bathroom are the worst as far as cold goes.  The walls are solid masonry…outside->brick->block->plaster->inside…basically a huge cold conductor into the house.  We demolished the office and bathroom first and have studded out new walls from the masonry and added water-proofing and insulation.

Uninsulated wall
Uninsulated wall

For my birthday, my brother-in-law and his wife bought me a thermal leak detector…one of those devices that can take instantaneous  temperature readings from a distance.  So, now that I have the office studded out and insulated, I thought it might be fun to compare the wall temperature of the new area with the uninsulated space of the rest of the area.  The entire area is basically unheated now as we are working so I suppose the difference would be more significant if we separated the areas a bit more and actually heated the area properly.  Anyhow, in the new area, my temperature reading was 64.7 deg F.  Not more than 5 feet away, I took a reading on the uninsulated part which was 54.5 deg F!  So, without separating the areas much at all, I can still see a 10 degree difference!

Insulated wall
Insulated wall

I took some additional readings which I thought were interesting.  In our bedroom, we suffer the same problem as the other rooms…the walls are uninsulated.  Although the are made of different materials, none of those materials is warm!  So, I took a reading on the bedroom wall which was 64.9 deg F.  I then moved to the new insulated window that replaced the old fashioned original windows.  The temperature of the window (windows are generally considered not to be great at keeping cold out) was 70.8 deg F!  I couldn’t believe the window was a better insulator than the wall!

The wall
The wall
The window
The window

So, I am certain now that the insulation projects I am doing are beneficial and the new windows I installed are well worth the money!

So what about you?  Ever quantify changes you’ve made to your place?  Have any good insulation stories to tell?

70 years of eeeewwwwwww!

Our house was built in 1939. I suppose someone has lived in it pretty much continuously since it was built. Said people probably used the kitchen sink about every day as well. Furthermore, occupants more than likely washed crumbs and chunks of food and marbles and all sorts of other stuff down the kitchen sink.

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(the original, offending pipes!)

Fast forward 70 years…a lovely, young, intelligent and beautiful couple moved in with their delightful children. Suffering from the sins of the folks who had mistreated the drains for 70 years prior, the brilliant couple discovered that their kitchen drain was stopped up (I wrote a limerick about it yesterday). A simple plunger and even a drain snake could not clear the clog.

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(hey, is that a pickle?  Yum!)

The handsome man of the house decided there was but one solution…buy a new tool and do exploratory surgery. Fortunately, the main drain from the sink was exposed in the basement.

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(part of the monstrosity/atrocity that I removed)

The original equipment was 2 inch galvanized steel. I originally cut the cleanout “Y” with my new reciprocating saw. It was clogged in both directions so I continued to cut back, piece at a time until I found clear pipe. All in all, I removed about 5 feet of pipe and 1000 pounds of corrosion and clog. Galvanized steel pipes (I recently learned from a co-worker) corrode on the inside and causes build-up. Sure enough, that’s exactly what I found. In the 2 inch pipe, there was approximately 1/2 inch of pipe still open. The remainder was a rock-solid corrosion that, of course, was a clog waiting to happen.

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(ahhhh…much better!)

So I finally found my clear pipe and hooked up new pvc drains and all is well. As I looked around more, I found that every single sink and tub drain in the house is made of galvanized steel. I think I see the next couple of years’ worth of projects…

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(we can do dishes again!)

So, if you live in an old house, what sort of quirks have you found? What about things that are unique to a new house?

Our Quebec drain

We’ve been working for over a week on getting drains and piers installed around my house.

(here’s what was in my driveway waiting for me last night)

By we, I mean the great group of guys who have been at the house working in neck-deep mud and muck, shoveling way too much by hand.  The piers are installed and hopefully doing their thing.  We’re a little stuck on the drains though.  Eventually, we hope to have French drains installed around half the house.  The guys have it excavated and pipe installed everywhere it needs to go.

(It’s hard to see the drain part…it’s covered in fabric to keep dirt out.  They are giving me separate lines for my gutters which are seen here)

The problem is that we got another couple of inches of rain, so, once again, they cannot work and we have a huge, muddy mess.  So, while we’d like to have French drains, we currently have Quebec drains.  I don’t mean that as any slight to our friends in Quebec…all I mean is that we are like French drains in a lot of ways…we have most of the characteristics, but we are definitely not French and we’ll take offense at anyone who calls us French…drains I mean.

Anyhow, I can’t fault the installation company, but gee whiz what is with this weather?!  The moat is filling nicely and I absolutely may have to install a drawbridge soon.  Maybe August will be August-like…

Home improvements or the Moat Around my Castle

Last week we had workers here to do all sorts of foundation and waterproofing work on my house.  They are certainly not done but they have given me one unexpected, but really cool feature…I now have a moat around my house.  Although we had a lot of rain earlier in the summer, we have been pretty dry lately.  We were dry until last night that is.  Some pretty good storms blew through and dumped a bunch of rain pretty quickly.  The drainage ditches the workers are building are basically solid clay still at this point and do not drain…at all.  So all around my house, I have a water filled moat!  I love home improvement!

The Big Dig, Part 1

I mentioned awhile back that we were having some foundation repair work done this summer.  The day has arrived!  A couple of folks showed up first thing this morning…well, first thing for a banker.  Anyhow, they are here and have made a huge mess of my yard!  I am so excited.  I figure they surely must work like I do on home improvements …once I become comitted to the job (i.e. make a huge mess), I see things through.  I figure digging gigantic holes under my house makes them committed.  There really isn’t too much to say yet so I will just share a few pictures and see what happens next!

The Happy Magical Washer

We recently had occasion to buy a new clothes washer.  We used to have one of those old fashioned top loading washers that used something like 70 gallons per wash.  Our clothes washer drains into a huge, old-fashioned laundry sink so we can see exactly how much water goes through it.  Anyhow, we went shopping at the typical big box stores and found a high efficiency, front-loading Amana washer for $489.  On average, this washer apparently saves ~10,500 gallons per year compared to a typical top loader.  Figuring our water bill alone (let alone sewer and electric), this new machine will pay for itself in 4 years.  Really, I suppose it would pay for the additional expense over a regular washer in much less than that.  Anyhow, we jumped at it and got free delivery to boot!

(I don’t know if you can get a sense of how steep this is…when we pull up it at an angle, it lifts one back tire off the ground of the car)

The happy delivery day was last Saturday so we woke early and built an elevated stand on which to set the washer.  We opted to save $150 for the matching stand that was offered.  It’s going to be in our ugly basement so we didn’t care if it matched.  Actually, the stand looks awesome anyhow.

Ok, so the happy day came and we prepared the space.  The delivery guys called and we warned them (as we did when we bought the washer) that we live on top of a seriously steep hill that kills big trucks.  “Yes, ok, we’ll consider that”, they said.  Of course, they sent a couple of fellas up in a huge delivery truck anyhow.  They couldn’t begin to get the truck up our driveway, but they did manage to get it up the road.  We hauled the washer to our house and got it hooked up.  I dropped them a tip and waved good-bye.  I secretly watched as they started to back the truck back down onto the main road (our road is a dead-end, one-lane road with no turn around for a big truck).  Sure enough, the steep road claimed their truck.  The driver got the back end stuck on the main road below.  He hit the gas and it dug in good.  He tried to rock it back and forth and sent up an awesome plume of tire smoke and dug a big hole in my road.

(That’ll leave a mark!)

The police came as traffic was snarled in both directions…for 20 minutes.  My neighbors were stuck on our road unable to get out as well.  It was so much fun.  Anyhow, the driver finally was able to burn enough off of his tires and my road to get a grip and the truck slammed down off of my road and was able to drive off to a special location where the policeman had a talk with the driver.

(It’s better than the movies!)

So, the new washer is awesome.  It uses a ton less water.  We can tell based on watching the laundry sink fill up (or now, not fill up) as it spins.  This new machine spins and whirs and makes all sorts of musical sounds (click here to hear the music it plays when the cycle is done).  It’s a happy, magical washing machine.  We all like to sit and watch it go through its cycles as it washes.  We have even watched an entire cycle more than once…a cycle is 54 minutes…pitiful.  Anyhow, if you buy a new washer, consider an entry level front loader.  They aren’t much more expensive than a top loader and are so cool!

This is criminal

I mentioned awhile back that our house is older and has all sorts of issues.  Slowly, I have been working my way through it remodeling as I go.  We’ve had a sag in the floor between our bedroom and the master bathroom.  I was planning to remodel the master bath but decided I needed to address the sag before I did anything else.

As a part of that, I planned to opened the cieling and install a new lintel and window near where I had everything opened.  This weekend was the moment of truth.  Since I was so anxious to get started, I woke up early on Saturday and took the family out to eat.  We messed around and went shoopping (I hate shopping) and did all sorts of other stuff.  Finally, I could put it off no longer.  After lunch, I opened the cieling…and cried.

The master bathroom had been remodeled sometime in the mid-1980s we think (based on the decor).  They added a gawd-awful garden tub and a stand-up shower.  Whatever genius did the work directly caused the sag when they added the new drains during the remodel.  My floor joists are comprised of 2×10 boards that run between load bearing walls.  The genius who installed the drain pipe cut 5 inch notches in at least 7 of those boards to run the drain pipe (there may be more…I have to open more cieling).  So, the original builder figured that the house needed 2×10 boards for support but the remodeling genius decided it was overkill and cut that in half to install the pipe.  The original builder was right.

So I got the lintel and window installed but now I (probably) have to remove the drain pipe and install new 2×10 boards to properly support the house.  I’ll have to jack a large portion of the floor to undo the sag as well.  I’d like to find the guy who originally did the remodel.  I think what he/she did was criminal.  At the very least, I’d like to swat the genius right on the nose with a newspaper…or a 2×10!