Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Did you know?

You can take your dog to the Home Depot?

Last time one of the associates told me I needed to "keep my horse saddled at all times."

Monday, September 28, 2009

On light fixtures

This took me almost four months to replace.


It looks extra classy with all but one bulb burned out.

It lets people know that this house is a work in progress.

I was shooting for a light fixture that people wouldn't much notice (did I succeed?) because there's an awful lot going on up there.  Smoke detector, carbon monoxide detector . . . or maybe I should go whole-hog and hang a mobile?

As an aside, I chose a flush-mount fixture mostly because it was cheap.  The underside part, the part that meets the ceiling, is backed with insulation. Insulation is not only itchy, but it also makes it unbelievably difficult to thread a screw blindly into a hole in the ceiling.  I will not buy one of these again.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Finishing the bathroom

I hit a couple of snags while I was finishing the bathroom, mostly because I’d never done it before.  It wasn’t anything major, but it slowed down my progress.  My bathroom vanity finally arrived one afternoon and I thought (honestly!) that I would just install it after work.  No big whoop.

I got the thing unpacked and staged in the bathroom.  It was pretty.  I somehow came to my senses and realized that I wouldn’t be able to put it together after working ten hours.  I should eat dinner, drink wine, and play with the dog instead.

I should also go back to Home Depot because I hadn’t purchased the correct plumbing materials.  Grrr.

The following Friday I put together the sink, which required installing the faucet and the drain kit.  In retrospect this would have been easier with a second person.  I had the sink cradled in my lap while I blindly tried to wrench things into place, all while keeping handles and spigot pointed in the right direction.  This is harder than it sounds.  It’s not anything that requires a professional but there is a certain finesse to doing it.

I chose a faucet one step up from the "builder’s special," which is what they charmingly call the cheapest faucet available.  I didn’t want to spend a ton of money (faucets are surprisingly expensive) but I didn’t want to cheap out, then buy another faucet in a year.  I chose brushed nickel, which seems to be really popular right now.  Do you remember how everything in the 80s was brass and how outdated it looks now?  I hope that doesn’t happen with brushed nickel.

It will probably happen with brushed nickel.

Once the faucet was installed I put a thin bead of caulk along the base and set the sink on top of it and then the weirdest thing happened: the sink was no longer flush with the base.  It rocked a little bit.  I shifted the sink around a little, and still it rocked.  I have no idea what changed but I just hoped the caulk would magically fix the problem.  And you know what?  It did.

My major problem with getting the vanity installed was a shelf installed inside.  It was just high enough that it interfered with the P trap of the drain.  I thought, “Well I’ll just remove the shelf!”  Who needs a shelf?  I removed the screws only to find that the shelf was glued in.  Really tightly.  I tried to fudge it and install the plumbing anyway, resulting in a bit of uptilt of the P trap, but this made the drain leak.  Ultimately I borrowed a jigsaw from the North Portland tool library and cut out a little spot for the pipe to hang.  It doesn’t look that great, but nobody should know but me and my roommate, right?

It took me about a week to stop checking the drain to see if it was leaking every time I used the sink.  I still check every once in a while, sure that my work will fail.  My friend Keith came over and taught me how to change out a light fixture and I hung some artwork.  

I think I like it even better than the pedestal sink I had planned.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The new kitchen floor

The Marmoleum I wanted usually takes about three weeks to arrive.  They send a big truck from the midwest and it travels around delivering linoleum happiness to people.  With the economy in the crapper nobody was ordering flooring, so the truck was just sitting there, waiting to be filled.  Three weeks after we ordered the tiles they said it would be at least another three weeks.

As I mentioned before, I was brushing my teeth in the kitchen sink because my bathroom vanity was on order, and the kitchen floor was just dusty subfloor.  I think it was a real testament to either 1. how much I love this house or 2. how tired I was, that this didn't make me crazy.

I had waffled over the kitchen floor, wondering if I could install it myself.  I had been warned that it's not as easy to install as ceramic tile, that to get the seams sealed required some skill.  The Marmoleum Click tiles, which snap together like laminate flooring, would add height to the floor that I didn't want.  I found out that Marmoleum comes with a 25 year warranty if you have a certified installer put it in.  So I decided to spend the money to have it installed professionally.  I got a ridiculous number of bids and selected A-1 Linoleum.  I can't say enough good things about A-1.  They were fantastic, they were honest, they were NICE.  The owner split the difference of rushing the tiles out, which was about $60.

Worth every penny. Having a real kitchen floor again made me feel like a princess.  I love the feel of the linoleum under my feet.  A lot of people complain about old linoleum in their apartment or house and I have to point out that they have vinyl tile, which is a totally different thing.  Linoleum is made of renewable materials and uses no toxic chemicals.  So if I ever sell the house and the new owner doesn't like the floor (and MANY people dislike my flooring choice) they can rip it out and I don't need to feel quite as guilty if it ends up in a landfill.

The only problem with putting new things in your house is that it highlights how much other things need sprucing.

How bad does that weird carpet in the dining room look, now? Someday down the road I'll fix that . . .

But for now I really really love my kitchen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The kitchen floor debacle

I had to go back to work the next week, which was probably for the best.  My fingers and wrists were so swollen and sore from gripping tools, scrubbing things, and holding a paintbrush that I woke up in the morning with my hands frozen in a claw.  None of my rings fit and my back was a mess.  I stopped by the house after work to throw another coat of paint on the closets and built-ins and found that the cheap styrofoam cooler of beer I had in the kitchen had cracked and leaked all over the kitchen floor.

 The kitchen tile before

Since the tile was cracked and lifting in places (which you really can't see in the photo), all the water traveled into the subfloor.  Luckily, I was already planning on replacing the kitchen floor and had already gotten six bids and ordered the materials. 

I pulled up the tile right then and there until I hit dry floor.  The water had spread the 9 ft length of the kitchen, to about a six feet width.  I pointed a fan at the floor and hoped it would be okay.

The upshot to this whole situation was that the mortar and grout that had been used to put the tile down scraped off quite easily.  In retrospect I wish the water had spread MORE because that last 30 or 40 square feet that stayed dry was a pain to clear.  I rented a floor scraper from the North Portland tool library but I didn't have the requisite upper body strength or stamina to use it very effectively.

I had ordered black and white Marmoleum, to be laid in a checkerboard pattern.  The installers were planning to put down a 1/4" underlayment beneath the tiles, but the subfloor would need to be pretty smooth.  Ultimately I went to the hardware store and rented a belt sander.  Gary at the Home Depot really didn't think this would work.  He asked he if I had considered a power washer.  I reiterated that I was removing thinset INSIDE MY HOUSE.  In the kitchen.

He suggested Goo Gone.  I asked him if he knew what thinset was.  Was he familiar with ceramic tile and how it gets attached to things?

He really tried to talk me out of the sander.  I was really tired at this point.  He very begrudgingly rented it to me.  He and his coworker joked back and forth that it was going to take me all night, that it was good I had a sleeping bag in my trunk, that it was a good thing I could have the sander until morning.  He tried to sell me 15 sanding belts, because "I was gonna need them." 

And guess what happened?  The sander worked like a charm.  I had the sander back to them in less than two hours.  I had used two sanding belts, but could have gotten away with one.

Suck it, Gary.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Day 7: Painting

My very tall friend Garbear came over to help me paint.  Painting with tall people is the best.

Despite the fact that I bought a sample of this paint color and painted a large swatch, it still ended up different than I wanted. The swatch was gray with a purple undertone; it was perfect. When we actually painted the entire room I got lavender.  It's pretty but it's not exactly what I wanted.

For all my work, it still sort of looks like Easter ralphed in there.  But it's clean and fresh Easter puke.  And man, painting the ceiling is the coolest trick in the world. I will never ever paint a room without painting the ceiling as well (except for the dining room, but I was really tired!).  It makes the room look so clean, so crisp, so brand-spankin' new.

Garbear then painted my bedroom ceiling, the bedroom closet, and the insides of the built-ins.  A funny thing happened, though.  At some point during the day one of us filled his pan with flat paint.  Then at some point I filled it with semi-gloss.  Then who knows what went in there.  It was the exact same color (MetroPaint's Mountain Snow) but in a different sheen  Imagine the tiny bit of shininess you see here:

painted in great swaths across your ceiling.  It looked terrible.  Until I figured out the sheen mix-up (and I'm going to blame MetroPaint for mislabeled paint, not the beer we were drinking. BEER DOESN'T MAKE BAD THINGS HAPPEN.) I was thinking that Garbear was a spectacularly untalented painter. I assumed he was pressing harder with the roller or something, which doesn't make any sense.  I wish I could say that this was the last time I made this mistake, but after three months in the house I'm realizing that half the bathroom door is shiny . . . and the closet (which I hit with a second and third layer of what I thought was flat) has some shiny spots where I accidentally touched up with semi-gloss.  AGAIN.

Seriously, keep your semi-gloss and flat paint in different zip codes.  Or maybe ventilate better than I did?  Addled brains do not lend themselves to good decisions.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Day 6: Manly men!

Another issue that hung up my closing was the shed on the back of the house.  It was rotting and not truly anchored to the house anymore.  My insurance company required that I remove it within thirty days or they wouldn't cover me.  So instead of installing laminate flooring the boys got to rip apart the shed.

They had such a good time.  After pulling some nails out they decided they could just yank the thing down.


Small problem: I had neglected to think about how we'd get this out of the backyard.  My friend had even stopped by that morning *with his truck* and I didn't even think about swapping cars.  So dumb.

A few frantic phone calls later and I was headed to the Home Depot to rent a flat bed truck.  The previous owner had stored 17 bags of concrete in the shed. At some point these got waterlogged, which meant we had about 1600 pounds of concrete pillows to move out of the shed.

All together we took two trips to the dump, with a total of 2200 pounds of materials.  I mostly fetched beers and took pictures on this project, making these guys very good friends indeed.  My favorite part was when we finished getting all the debris into the truck and Z quipped, "The best part is that they'll never know where the shed was."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Day 3, 4, & 5: The bathroom

I'm pretty sure this wasn't original to the house. I knew I wanted to rip this vanity out, even as I was walking through the house for the first time with my realtor. Yep, I knew this house was mine even then. The question of the hour concerned the tile and whether it would continue under the vanity. My realtor and I were betting it would, but you never know.

I loved the floor tile in this bathroom. The shower tile (which was not original)? Not so much. And the color scheme they chose in here was puzzling, like Easter threw up.

I disconnected all the plumbing and turned off the water at the wall. I removed the countertop first, separating it from the wall where I discovered they had used 1/4" of glue. I don't do this for a living, but this seemed like an excessive amount of adhesive. I curse whoever made this decision.

I couldn't see where they had screwed the vanity to the wall, so I just pulled for all I was worth. Many things I do, not with brains or brawn, but rather out of stubbornness. It turns out that vanity was indeed screwed to the wall, but I just pulled that mothereffer right out of the wall. My back realllly hurt that night. But I had won! Take that, ugly vanity!

The technical term for this is "icky."

My spidey sense had told me I needed to pull this vanity out, and I'm glad I listened. There was mold, lots of dirt, hair, and dust. It was a respiratory nightmare, so guess what I did? I PUT ON A MASK. Go me.

Some bleach and elbow grease later, and I had all the grime taken care of. The thick layer of adhesive? I spent four hours chipping that stuff off. I gouged the hell out of the wall, too.

My friend Maura told me, after the fact, that there's some sort of product you can get at the hardware store that will melt this stuff off. But where's the fun in that? It's not like I had anything else to do in the house. Ahem.

It's sort of fun to see the old layers, the paint choices made by people 50 years ago. People back then were COLORBLIND.

I bought a Kohler pedestal sink on craigslist for $40 and was so excited to install it. Once I started digging around on the Internet I found out they call it "the graduate school project of DIY." It turns out you need to open the wall and install a crossbeam into which you can bolt the top part of the sink. It's tricky and there's a chance that you can crack the sink if you have something a few millimeters off. I firmly believe I could do this, given some help and lots of time, but I didn't have a lot of time, and I had many other projects to do. So I decided to let the pedestal sink go and install a new vanity. Of course, the one I wanted wasn't in stock so I had to order it. I was still awaiting delivery when I moved into the house, which meant I got to brush my teeth in the kitchen sink for two weeks.

I spackled all the gouges and holes in the walls and primed the bathroom with a gallon of Kilz. Then I scrubbed the hell out of the bathtub and toilet. Future plans included painting the bathroom, recaulking the tub, and replacing the wax ring on the toilet. I'm ambitious. Or dumb. One of the two.

The new garage door

My closing came down to the wire and I actually ended up closing two days late because of a hold up with the appraisal. Apparently they didn't like my half of a garage door. I didn't either, but it didn't seem like something that should stop me from getting my house. After much back and forth with my lender it was decreed that I had to put $800 in escrow until I proved that I had installed a new garage door. Grrr.

I looked online and saw that garage doors can cost as little as $180. I did a little digging and found out that installing a garage door yourself is pretty hard. I guess those big springs they use can cause dismemberment! And let's face it, I don't know how to install one myself and no one I knew had ever done it before. So I called up my friendly garage door installer and asked for "the cheapest garage door humanly possible." So while I didn't want to spend money on that, it had to happen.

Look who's all growns up!

And you guys? Coming home from work to find a project completed, a project that didn't require you to lift a single finger, save to sign a check? That is HEAVEN ON A STICK. He even swept up after himself. And the installer was hot, to boot. EVERYONE WINS.

In the end I was so glad they made me do this. I think my neighbors appreciated it greatly, I now had somewhere to store things like the lawnmower (which had been sitting in the kitchen, which smelled terrific), and I didn't put it off forever like I know I would have otherwise. Everyone wins.

Day 1 & 2: The kitchen

It has a nice personality!

The nicest thing I could call the kitchen is "comically grimy." The cabinets, while still in good shape, likely hadn't been scrubbed in 20 years. There's no range hood, so I imagine any smoke just sort of sat in the kitchen. The cabinet doors were filthy and the hardware was from the 70's. And it was very ugly. I decided to remove all the doors and drawers, remove their hardware, and to give them a good scrub in TSP.

I numbered the doors so I'd know where they'd go later. This was another Good Idea.

Some of the hardware didn't want to come off, it was so caked with grime. After scrubbing and rinsing and drying the doors, I did the same inside the cabinets, removing the old contact paper.

Man, do I have feelings about contact paper.

I removed 70 years of contact paper from the cabinets, layer upon layer of it. The bottom layer took me about two days to remove and I had to blast it with a hair dryer first to warm up the adhesive, then carefully peel it off in small strips. I swear that I am still finding bits of the old paper stuck to things in the house. I've decided that contact paper with adhesive is the devil, in fact. I decided it's not allowed in the house . . . well, except in those six drawers . . . but that's it!

I then painted the insides of all the cabinets and hit the doors and drawers with a coat of Howard Feed-N-Wax wood preserver. It made them shiny and pretty again. I had a lot of people ask me about paintning my cabinets, but I'm reluctant to do that. Once you paint it's hard to undo without a lot of time, effort, or expense. And I like the look of real wood. With the new hardware some of the cabinets look really nice:

With some of the doors the old hardware created a stained depression in the wood which still shows:

Someday, down the line, I'd like to have the doors refinished. I think the burl of the wood is gorgeous and these cabinets are STURDY. Someday I'll have a professional hang the doors too, because, man, is that ever hard to do by yourself. All of my doors are crooked or they overlap a bit, or they aren't level . . . I never knew that would be such a challenge.

First projects in the house

Monday: Day 1 of house work week.

Buying a fixer I sort of bounced all over the place with where I wanted to start. For some reason I felt like I needed to get the basement finished out so I could offer it to potential roommates as a place to be creative, watch TV, or just get away from each other. Nevermind that the sink in the bathroom doesn't work, I have a finished basement! I'm not sure what I was thinking.

As a side note, waiting for my closing date was the most stressful thing I've been through in a while. I couldn't do anything at the house, so instead I stewed and worried. I slept horribly, crunching numbers in my head almost constantly. Could I really afford this place? How long would it take me to get a roommate? One Saturday night I tossed and turned, convinced that no one would ever want to live with me if I didn't have a dining room table and chairs. THE HORROR. But I went out the next day to Rerun on Fremont and got a really cool (if a little dilapidated) Danish dining set for $70.

Anyway, the basement. Scott, Z, and Keith volunteered to help me put in laminate flooring in the basement the following Saturday. Lumber Liquidators had a very good sale going, so I could outfit the whole basement for about $350, which seemed like so much money at the time. So my first project was the pull the mildewing carpet out of the basement. This is the part in the story where people always say, "You wore a mask/ventilator, right?"

Ummmm . . . . no? It didn't even occur to me at the time. In retrospect? BAD IDEA JEANS, you guys. But I did it and I haven't died yet. The carpet came up really easily, as did the padding underneath. I got it hauled up the stairs and into the garage and it wasn't even 10am yet. I was feeling so good, like I was going to have this whole house finished in the one week I had taken off of work.

I encountered another layer of padding in the basement, the glue-down kind. And I noticed this unfortunate little problem:

These are water stains from where the water table rose in my basement. Or at least that's what I thought it was. So I emailed Keith and told him what I suspected and waited for a response. In the meantime I had this epiphany: any potential roommate is not going to care about the basement, they are going to care about the kitchen and the bathroom. And furthermore, so would I. So I decided to shelve the flooring project and focus instead on getting the bathroom and kitchen fixed up.

Most days I'm not very smart, but this idea? It was a very good one.

Househunting and the reveal

My dad started harassing me last Christmas about trying to buy a house. The market had tanked, there was a tax credit available, and I would likely never be able to afford on my own otherwise. I kept telling him, "I need another year to save money!" and he kept telling me "now is the time."

When I started looking at houses I was a little shocked to see what was in my price range. We looked at houses with non-functioning kitchens and bathrooms. Houses that had been "remuddled" in the 70's and then left to irresponsible renters. Really cool houses (like the one with the "Screw room" placard pictured above, believe it or not) in terrible parts of town. Houses with floors that sloped and buckled. Houses where the walls of the basement were crumbling and bowing in. I always wanted to buy a fixer (much the way people want to buy puppies: with little thought to the actual work involved) but in order to stay in the area I wanted I was going to need to do more fixing than I had anticipated.

The only thing that was keeping me from panicking completely was the $8000 federal first-time home buyer credit. But when you start gutting bathrooms, $8000 doesn't go very far. I didn't even own a couch. How was I going to get a fixer in livable shape AND buy furniture? I started to have that panicky feeling again, so I decided to see if any of the makeover shows on HGTV were filming in Portland. It just so happened that My First Place was casting and their application was blessedly brief.

I should stress that I had no interest in being on TV. I imagine it's like hearing yourself on an answering machine. "Oh god, do I really sound like that?" But add in cameras that make you look heavier than you are and that broadcast your bad hair day to lots of people you don't know. It just doesn't appeal to me.

But I did it for the housewarming gift, which in this case was living room furniture.

Because I am high-strung and rather Type-A, I wasn't content to let the designer assigned to me do her job. I had ideas and a lot of fears that she would give me something awful. Since I was going through the mortification of being on reality TV for this furniture, I couldn't just sit idly by. Ultimately she allowed me to make a wish list of furniture for the room, but she wouldn't tell me what had been selected. The couch is by Dania and I found it on craigslist. The two side chairs are from the 1950's and they came from Shag on Sandy Blvd. The coffee table is from Vintage Pink on Hawthorne Blvd.

I loved the result and I can't tell you how nice it was to have one room that was fairly finished, particularly during the time when I was brushing my teeth in the kitchen sink because I didn't have one in the bathroom. And the kitchen? It had no proper floor because I'd ripped the tile out one day when water leaked all over it and into the subfloor. And the marmoleum I'd ordered was on backorder with no ETA. And half my life was still in moving boxes in the dining room. Walking through that furnished living room, with its funny TV touches (there's wood piled in the fireplace even though I have yet to get a chimney inspector out to tell me if the thing is safe to use), well, that was like HEAVEN.

I had a small housewarming party the night of the reveal where we ate pizza and drank warm beer (did I mention the house didn't come with appliances?). Then a funny thing happened: everyone felt the need to point out things that needed fixing in the house. I have no idea if this happens to all homeowners, or just people who buy fixers. Or maybe it just happens to women? I already knew I had a lot of work (did I mention part of my backyard fence blew down the day I signed for the house? Oh universe, you SLAY me!) so hearing that my garbage disposal was broken and that my water heater didn't seem to work had me in deep despair by the end of the evening. I went home that night, curled up with my roommate's dog on the hallway floor, and cried my eyes out. What had I done? How on earth was I going to handle the responsibility of this house? I'm in a much better place now but I know that I will probably do this again some time in the future when my sewer line breaks or my basement floods or the rest of my fence falls over.

I took the following week off of work and worked all day, every day, on my house. I'll post some details in a bit from that week.

My first place!

I did it. I bought a house. It was a foreclosure and it's most definitely a fixer. I love it.

There are some pretty obvious problems from the get-go: I have half a garage door (the previous owner's daughter drove through it) and no gutters on the house. I have a new roof . . . but no roof vents.

I have ELEVEN arbor vitae in front of the house, which makes my house look like a crumbling, dilapidated fortress, a house where the ladies of Grey Gardens would be comfortable.

ELEVEN, you guys. Who plants that many in the front of their house? Inside the house I have some electrical issues (bad splices in the attic, my electrical box has no cover, I seem to have bare wires poking out in places), and a lot of deferred maintenance issues to address. Basically, there are a lot of little things that the former owner should have been doing, but he got distracted by the game on TV . . . or something . . . and it never happened.

The house was empty for three or four years, depending on which neighbor you talk to. The basement smells like mildew and the sink in the bathroom doesn't work. Every room has been painted two different colors, and none of those colors seem to reach the corners. The wood floors are pretty thrashed. The deck off the master bedroom is rotting. In every single room they covered the windows with some sort of window film, which left a blackish residue once it was removed.

It's so beautiful.

The wraparound windows. The arches! The coved ceilings. It still has the original art deco tile in the bathroom.

It needs a lot of work but I'm excited to do it. I'll be documenting my projects here, as I'll be doing most of it myself. I have some money, thanks to the government first-time homebuyer credit, some very gracious friends, and an electric drill my brother gave me. I also found a hammer in one of the kitchen drawers. So there's that, too.