Archive for the ‘home improvement’ Tag

Why I Quit Blogging — For An Entire Year.


by Keith Yancy

I stopped blogging for an entire year.  There were a variety of reasons for this, actually, including increased work responsibilities, crazy schedules, stress, some internal angst… but most of all, because I had to put my house back together.

It all started after we had our now-infamous beehive removed from the ceiling and wall of our living room.  It left an incredible mess, ruined an entire corner of our living room (including the carpeting, which needed to go anyhow), and generally made the room unfit for habitation.  My wife and I had agreed that, once we removed the bees, we would re-model both the living room and the attached dining room — both were bland, boring, beige (sorry, I hate the color beige… it’s the American cheese of colors) and were rooms no one liked to be in.

So… I remodeled both rooms, starting with the dining room and working my way through the living room.  The pictures below offer a visual timeline of the experience.  I enjoyed it thoroughly, though I made plenty of mistakes along the way. 

                        

The original living room, boring, bland and beige.

The original living room, boring, bland and beige.

Another view from the living room into the attached dining room.

Another view from the living room into the attached dining room.

Both rooms were the same color, though the dining room included a beat-up chair rail molding on the walls.

Both rooms were the same color, though the dining room included a beat-up chair rail molding on the walls.

The partition wall between the rooms was boring too.  These rooms were utterly destitute of anything interesting.

The partition wall between the rooms was boring too. These rooms were utterly destitute of anything interesting.

While the rooms were boring, they both had windows that let plenty of light in, which was a big plus.

While the rooms were boring, they both had windows that let plenty of light in, which was a big plus.

Then came the day of the beehive removal... which was our "point of no return."

Then came the day of the beehive removal… which was our “point of no return.”

This was one part of the beehive, after the combs were removed.  The mess was incredible, and dried honey everywhere made it amazingly difficult to clean.

This was one part of the beehive, after the combs were removed. The mess was incredible, and dried honey everywhere made it amazingly difficult to clean.

Once the hive was removed, I built wainscot panels for the dining room.  The panels were pre-built in my basement workshop, then installed in place.

Once the hive was removed, I built wainscot panels for the dining room. The panels were pre-built in my basement workshop, then installed in place.

More wainscot in the dining room.  Each wall had to be carefully measured to ensure panels were consistent widths, and electrical outlets had to be planned carefully to avoid placement behind stiles.

More wainscot in the dining room. Each wall had to be carefully measured to ensure panels were consistent widths, and electrical outlets had to be planned carefully to avoid placement behind stiles.

While the work was fun, I made mistakes... like this one, where I hit the wall with my hammer.

While the work was fun, I made mistakes… like this one, where I hit the wall with my hammer.

I built out the dividing wall between the two rooms to add some character and define the spaces better, but preserved the light by installing posts halfway up.  Moldings added some detail and interest.

I built out the dividing wall between the two rooms to add some character and define the spaces better, but preserved the light by installing posts halfway up. Moldings added some detail and interest.

Same dividing wall, looking into the living room.  Ensuring that the wainscot panels were consistent and integrated for these was challenging.

Same dividing wall, looking into the living room. Ensuring that the wainscot panels were consistent and integrated for these was challenging.

Detail work for the dividing walls was intricate, but fun.  These details took extra time, but I enjoyed making them.

Detail work for the dividing walls was intricate, but fun. These details took extra time, but I enjoyed making them.

Because the posts were already in place, I had to cut the oak shelves in half, and re-join them around the posts.

Because the posts were already in place, I had to cut the oak shelves in half, and re-join them around the posts.

Another mistake.  I had hoped to simply move this outlet from one side of the wall stud to the other (adjusting for the wainscot layout), but found -- after I cut the wall open -- that there was a vent that my stud finder failed to detect.

Another mistake. I had hoped to simply move this outlet from one side of the wall stud to the other (adjusting for the wainscot layout), but found — after I cut the wall open — that there was a vent that my stud finder failed to detect.

Once all the dining room woodwork was done, I moved into the bigger project -- the living room.

Once all the dining room woodwork was done, I moved into the bigger project — the living room.

Throughout this construction, our dog was quite comfortable, and learned to sleep through all the noise, hammering, sanding, etc.

Throughout this construction, our dog was quite comfortable, and learned to sleep through all the noise, hammering, sanding, etc.

The living room renovation began with planning and building a gas fireplace.  This base was installed the night before the firebox was put in.

The living room renovation began with planning and building a gas fireplace. This base was installed the night before the firebox was put in.

Because I'm not comfortable hooking up natural gas, we paid a contractor to do the rough install of the firebox.

Because I’m not comfortable hooking up natural gas, we paid a contractor to do the rough install of the firebox.

Once the firebox was installed, I framed out the fireplace.

Once the firebox was installed, I framed out the fireplace.

Framing continued with the mantle, hearth, and wood shelves on each side.  I also added arches above the fireplace and on each side shelving unit for interest.  Bookshelves were built and assembled in my workshop, then installed.  The hearth was built in place.

Framing continued with the mantle, hearth, and wood shelves on each side. I also added arches above the fireplace and on each side shelving unit for interest. Bookshelves were built and assembled in my workshop, then installed. The hearth was built in place.

Tile makes me nervous, especially rough slate tile... but I decided to try it myself.  Christine chose the tile colors, which was a great choice, in my opinion.

Tile makes me nervous, especially rough slate tile… but I decided to try it myself. Christine chose the tile colors, which was a great choice, in my opinion.

The fireplace hearth, with drywall and tiles installed.

The fireplace hearth, with drywall and tiles installed.

Later, after trimwork was installed and painting had begun, I would occasionally find small objects (like the clock) randomly placed amid the construction area... my wife likes to see "how things will look."  :)

Later, after trimwork was installed and painting had begun, I would occasionally find small objects (like the clock) randomly placed amid the construction area… my wife likes to see “how things will look.” 🙂

Painted walls and wainscot panels in the dining room.  The white painted wainscot brightened the room dramatically, while the color above kept it feeling "warm."

Painted walls and wainscot panels in the dining room. The white painted wainscot brightened the room dramatically, while the color above kept it feeling “warm.”

Another section of the dining room wainscot.  Door frames, light switches, etc -- all had to be planned and placed carefully, as accurate panel measurements were critical.  I had to build around ill-placed vents and the house thermostat also.

Another section of the dining room wainscot. Door frames, light switches, etc — all had to be planned and placed carefully, as accurate panel measurements were critical. I had to build around ill-placed vents and the house thermostat also.

The finished mantel.  The crown molding at the top was actually recycled from a previous family room re-model.  The trim used to be on the family room fireplace hearth, but matched the crown molding, which was no longer available in stores.

The new trimmed-out picture window.  Note we still need curtains.

The new trimmed-out picture window. Note we still need curtains.

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Another view of the dining room, from the living room.

Another view of the dining room, from the living room.

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The finished living room, during Christmastime.

The finished living room, during Christmastime.

Other than the window treatments, I’m pretty much finished with these two rooms… thankfully.  I had a great time working on this project, but I’m glad to be done.  I would give myself a “B” grade, overall.  If you have any questions or comments, be sure to ask — I learned a lot from this experience.

Until next time… 🙂

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The Battle Scars of Home Improvement


 

My stair project, complete with new hardwood treads and risers, newel posts, and railings and balusters.

by Keith Yancy

 

Though I have often worked on home improvement projects over the winter months, it seems like springtime brings with it an extra degree of motivation for starting home improvement projects.  And this year is no exception.

I have many on my list, like most homeowners, I suppose.  And I may get some of them done.  This year, in addition to getting rid of the beehive in my wall (yeah, it’s still there), I’ve told two of my daughters that I’d re-decorate their bedrooms.  And, of course, I’d like to get the living room and dining room done before next winter also. 

None of these jobs are particularly hard, though putting in wainscot and hardwood floor in the dining room will take some time.  Yet, I always take some time — a week or two, usually — to think through the project before I get started.  That’s a long time, in my opinion; I’ve done all these jobs before.  But unlike a professional, I just can’t quite get comfortable with these projects, or consider anything routine.

I’ve owned (read: paid a mortgage on) three houses in my adult life.  During that time, I’ve re-landscaped (three times), remodeled a basement, installed a bathroom, remodeled two kitchens, re-built two staircases, painted a host of interior rooms, replaced trim molding, built cabinetry, designed and built a mudroom, and have done a variety of other smaller jobs.  While I didn’t love every minute of every project (nothing is worse than taking accoustic ceiling gunk off of a ceiling), I can say I genuinely enjoy myself, and have done a modestly decent job on most of these projects.

But it didn’t come without some scars.  I’ve hit my fingers with hammers countless times.  Pulled out countless splinters.  Given myself a minor shock once or twice (and blew out an entire electrical panel once).  Smashed hands, feet, and other appendages.  Breathed (and swallowed) more dust, fumes and sawdust than most non-contractors would in their lifetimes.  Had metal shavings in my eyes.  Pulled every muscle I know of, and quite a few that I didn’t. 

I’d have to say, however, the most memorable of these incidents occurred when I first began to work on home improvement projects.  I was about 27 or so, and the whole idea was pretty new to me.  I had just purchased my first house, a nice, tiny bungalow with an unfinished basement.  After a few projects upstairs, I decided that I would refinish the basement.  I grabbed a few tools (all the tools I had at the time) and got to work.

In order to remodel the basement, though, I had to take out the mid-1950’s decor that was there: a built-in bar and a wall that had a cheesy picture of a pastoral autumn scene.  Thinking that this was the easy part, I grabbed a hammer and prybar and quickly got rid of the bar, the paneling, and cheesy picture.  All that was left was the framing.

After work one evening, about 6 or so, I decided to take out the framing, and proceeded downstairs.  This wall had been there for decades, but I was confident that I could get it removed quickly.  Things got a bit complicated, however, when I discovered that the previous owner (who was also the original homeowner and a thorough guy) had glued, nailed and BOLTED the wall to the floor and ceiling.  Being young and dumb, of course, this just made me more resolved to show off my toughness and determination to my wife, who had already lost interest and gone back upstairs.

I proceeded to pound on all the wood framing with my hammer — hard — until the boards came loose.  This mostly brainless plan was working fairly well, and I had taken about half of the studs out of the wall.  I came across a difficult stud to remove, however, and really decided that more brute strength was needed.  I had been hitting this wood beam with my hammer with increasing force, and the beam hadn’t budged much. 

I can still recall — clearly — what happened next.  I thought to myself, one more hit should get this post moving — aim near the bottom and really let ‘er have it.  I remember bringing that framing hammer up over my head, looking at that beam, and clinching my teeth for the devastating hit that beam was about to receive.  I remember bringing that hammer down, with pretty much all the force and strength I could muster, and bracing myself for the impact. 

I remember the fraction of a second during which I realized I had missed the beam, and the fleeting thought of trying to stop my swing, or at least try to slow my momentum. 

I distinctly remember the awful sound of that framing hammer hitting my shinbone. 

Thinking back, it was kind of cool in a funny, gross way… that strange “THOCK” sound of hammer hitting flesh and bone that hard.  Being an idiot, not only did I hit my own shin with my own hammer in my own basement, I was wearing shorts.  Ouch.

The strange thing was, it didn’t hurt as badly as you’d think it would.  Oh, it hurt all right… but maybe because there’s so little flesh on that part of your leg, it was bearable.  I immediately dropped the hammer on the floor, but I didn’t scream or even yell in pain.  The first thing that came to my head was what came out of my mouth, which was a single phrase, said grumpily but calmly: “damn it.”  I think, looking back, that I was so embarrassed about making such a stupid mistake that I did a pretty decent job of controlling myself.

Anyhow, I proceeded to walk up the stairs (having yet not looked at my leg, due to lack of courage) to try to apply some first aid.  By the time I walked up 8 steps, my foot was squishing inside my shoe from the blood that had run into it.  By the time I walked 6 feet from the stairs to sit in a kitchen chair, my leg was starting to hurt pretty badly.  And by the time I sat down and forced myself to look at it, a knot the size of a golfball had grown onto my shin.   

Pretty interesting 60 seconds, I suppose.

But in the aftermath, I knew I liked doing these projects, because I was back at work the next day… and I still love working around the house.  I’m certainly older, a little wiser, but there’s nothing as satisfying as building something yourself and enjoying it afterwards.  And that’s what inspires me to keep going, keep working on projects, and hopefully, do it without earning too many more scars.

Until next time… : )

Standing In Broken Glass: A True Story of Stupidity


 
 
 
 

 

 

The door that got revenge on me...

by Keith Yancy

I do a lot of home improvements.  Sometimes, I do a decent job.  Other times, I don’t do as well as I’d like.

And then, there’s the occasional episode that demonstrates incredible stupidity.

One of my more recent ones involves that ugly door I’ve pictured here.  This door is the side entrance door to my garage, but it’s also more than that: it’s a pestilence.  It mocks me every day when I leave for work, and every day when I return home.  I don’t hate things, but if I did, I know that I’d start with this door.

Take a good look at the picture… see the molding around the window?  Notice how it’s gone around the bottom, and going around the top?  That’s where this story begins.

Two summers ago, this door was in the EXACT same lousy condition it’s in today.  Over the course of several months, the door’s condition steadily grew worse, and I resolved to repair this door at some vague future date and save myself the expense of replacing it.  The door molding had fallen off around the bottom (it’s plastic molding) and the double pane window was rattling every time anyone went through the door.  I had a general sense that, if I didn’t do something soon, the window would fall out and make repair pretty much impossible.

So, of course, I waited and did nothing.  Until one day, my wife told me that the window had fallen out onto the ground.  I sighed and went outside to clean up the mess.

That’s when the weird part of this story occurred: to my amazement, the window wasn’t broken.  It had slipped out the bottom of the broken molding, landed on a rubber mat at the base of the door, and sat there — like a gift from heaven.  All I had to do, I reasoned, was put the window back in and fix the molding, and I’d experience both incredible luck and an opportunity to be incredibly cheap — all at the same time.

So, off I went to fix the door, wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and open toed-sandals.  This outfit, unfortunately, was critically important as the rest of this sad episode unfolded.

I discovered to my surprise that the window, while falling out pretty easily, was much harder to put back in.  First, it was heavy — it was a double-pane window, meaning there are two panes of glass sandwiched together.  Second, the molding, while being flimsy enough to let the window slide out, was pretty stiff when trying to put it back in, and I soon found the window stuck about three inches from my goal.  I wrestled and wiggled the panes for several minutes (albiet gently), in a vain attempt to get it to move the last three inches.  

It’s worth noting that my language during this experience, while colorful to begin with, gradually and steadily became less and less appropriate, until I was swearing quite freely and loudly at the stubborn window.  I described it using a variety of names, but nothing worked.  The glass wouldn’t budge, and the weight of the pane made me increasingly hot, tired and frustrated.  All this effort for a lousy garage side door that was butt-ugly to begin with.

By now, our next door neighbors, who were out in their front yard, were probably watching me with considerable amusement.  They were polite enough to keep to themselves, but I’m pretty sure they were watching me, Mr. UltraCheap, wrestling — and losing — with his own door.

And then, I got creative.  I looked around for an idea to help me get the window into place… and saw, on my workbench, a small ball-peen hammer.  It was only about six inches long, used for light tasks, and I had left it in the garage from some other failed repair effort earlier in the summer.  After a moment of not very sound consideration, I left the window wedged in the door frame, grabbed this small hammer — yes, a HAMMER — and went back to the task at hand.  I figured that, being a small hammer and all, I could tap the glass into place, then replace the molding.

TAP GLASS.  With a HAMMER.  A glass pane that was, quite literally, about two inches away from my FACE as I tried to get it back into my cheap, ugly door.

Very, very shortly after I attempted this plan, and to my total astonishment, I heard a loud “pop” sound… and my double-pane glass instantly became a SINGLE pane of glass (and a lot lighter).  Here’s where my poor wardrobe choice became immediately apparent.

In addition to looking totally ridiculous and stupid in front of my neighbors (which I was), standing against a cheap door with a small hammer in one hand and the other holding a pane of glass, I soon realized that all of the glass (having exploded from the hammer taps) fell straight downward.  There was only one thing breaking the fall of all this glass: my feet, which were clad only in those open-toed sandals I mentioned earlier.

I discovered with some fascination that while some of the glass had simply stuck into the top of my feet, the vast majority of it fell in a big pile on, around, in, and under my feet.   Glass was between my toes, between my feet and my sandals, under the sandal straps (on top of my feet), and even between the ankle straps and my ankles. 

Picture this: idiot with a hammer in one hand cannot let go of the glass, or it will fall (because it was now too thin to be stuck).  Idiot’s feet are already bleeding freely.  Idiot can’t move, because any movement will create new cuts on his feet and ankles.  Idiot can’t call for help, because he’s too embarrassed for being so stupid.  Idiot can’t even swear anymore, because he’s so amazed at his own stupidity.

Who ever knew being an idiot was so complicated?

I eventually threw the hammer on the ground, placed the window on the ground, then spent the next 20 minutes attempting to sweep away the glass from my bloody feet.  By the time I was able to leave the scene, my neighbors went in the house (to keep from laughing out loud, I suppose), I had a huge pile of glass to clean up, and I STILL had a broken door. 

I eventually put the single pane of glass in the door and repaired the molding, but as you can see, it’s broken again.  This time, I’m buying a new door.  And I’m not putting it in until I know my neighbors aren’t home.

Until next time… : )