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The Filthy Window

June 28, 2011   //  Posted in: Curb Appeal, Windows   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

There’s a single 3rd story window in the attic.

It’s charming. As in, I think dormers are cute.

But from a curb appeal standpoint, the paned glass window itself looked creepy – it was painted black and then covered with a screen. For no obvious reason, when the windows on the house were updated a decade or so ago, the attic window received no special treatment.

Front of the house. Post siding, pre-attic update.

I didn’t even know that it could be removed easily (it appeared to have been painted in place the other time I checked into it), but several months ago I heard a crash and noticed it had been blown inwards to the attic floor during an impressive wind storm. Glad I checked right away, because we fixed the situation quickly and didn’t lose too much in the sense of heat efficiency. Considering I hadn’t been in the attic for about 7 months, I was glad I sucked it up and ventured into the dark space. Anyone else still scared that someone lives in their attic?

The fear factor isn’t helped by the huge snowsuit or work suit or something that Pete hung up that looks similar to a dark shadowed body next to the window. I scare easily. As far as I’m concerned, it looks like something out of Criminal Minds. Body bags. Creepy attic folk. Ax murderers.

Creepy attic window and a body bag.

The solution for securing the window at the time was to affix a wooden block to the frame to pin the loosened window in place – you can see it right at the top in the previous photo, and again in this next one. It worked well; there’s no easy way for the window to come free now.

A window blockade - a board screwed into the frame to hold the pane pinned in place.

But the real thing I noticed when the window was out of place is that it was filthy, with chipping paint and glazing, and desperately needed some love. The screen was messed up too, torn in one corner, and it’s not actually the screen you’d expect to see on a window – just a piece of mesh stretched and stapled to the window opening. Classy. And dirty. Hard to clean a screen that’s been stapled in place for decades.

Simple screen stretched in and stapled to the window sill. Getting holey.

Only just this past weekend amidst warmer weather did I disassemble the window again to take some time to clean it up.

I left the screen in place for the time being so that I could try and keep buggers out of the house while I was repairing the paned glass. Sidenote: This is actually the most bug-free house I’ve ever lived in (knock on wood).

I was able to remove the window from it’s encasement by unscrewing the blockade that had been installed, and then spent an hour sanding and scraping most of the loose paint and glazing away on the porch in the sun (I love working at home). New glazing went on in the same day. Luckily, Pete had some; the man has everything; he also taught me everything I needed to know about glazing – he can teach you too, because he actually wrote a bit about the DIY process over on his blog today.

Paned window glazing technique.

When it came to painting, I ended up doing something that I wasn’t planning on. While the painted chipping side was getting repaired, it was still nowhere near as pretty a condition as the unpainted, unweathered side of the pane that had forever faced inward. Instead of spending more time hand-sanding and carefully scraping, I decided to flip flop the pane and paint the better side white. That side was now going to face outside, and the damaged side could face inward.

I’m not sure if you’re allowed to do that or not, but I’ll tell you, it worked for me.

Once it had painted and dried (for days! It was so humid!) I took extra efforts to insulate the inside of the window with some transparent shrink film and the window sill with self-stick vinyl foam weatherseal. These products were actually something I had gotten for free at the Buffalo Home Show that I visited and wrote about this past spring.

A sealed up window. It hadn't actually been blasted with heat yet when this photo was taken.

The reinstall was a snap. I completely removed the dirty screen from the window, along with as many staples as I could detect, and slid the freshly painted window into place snug against the weatherseal.

For added security (never know when a gust of wind is going to blow it out of the window, apparently) I reinstalled the original wood block and a secondary one along the bottom to hold the window in place.

The change from the curb is still quite minimal and probably only noticed on a day-to-day basis by yours truly, but I’m quite happy with the dormer now that it doesn’t look like a creepy Criminal Minds hideaway from the curb (no such improvement on the inside yet).

Updated attic window.

Interpretative Mid-Century Birdhouse

June 24, 2011   //  Posted in: Backyard, Decor, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  5 responses

I tapped into the bird brain this week, as the little fellows who were born in a nest on my pergola took flight and started new lives of their own. Thank goodness; they were messy. Time to remove that nest before someone else moves in.

Sneaky little birds nest on my pergola. Grumble grumble grumble. Photo cred to @dadandblog.

We did have a good time watching mama and papa come with wormy dinner and leave with what several websites have confirmed to be bird poop in small sacks. Sorry to make it poop-related, but watching them was fascinating; who knew they were so hygienic. Cute too, with their little mouths held open and ready for din-din every night right around 6:30.

Sneaky little birds nest on my pergola. But they're so cute. Photo cred to @dadandblog.Hoping to keep the birds in the area but not loitering over my entryway, I decided a formal birdhouse might be well-suited for the backyard. My parents had a slew of birdhouses (both DIY and fancy pants two-story aluminum structures with railings and condos and HOA dues) and I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to realize that I had never made or installed one myself.

Happy shout-out to Chris at Curbly for the inspiration behind creating this project. His mid-century modern birdhouse must easily be the hottest birdpad in town. Swanky. I started by using his as a visual reference, but applied some of my own creative liberties along the way based merely because I was limited on materials and didn’t want to drop some dough if I didn’t need to. (I didn’t; this was totally free-zilla.)

The wood I used was leftover premium pine from when I installed the open kitchen shelving.

The few materials available to make the birdhouse. Note: One entire 11x14 board went to the roof.

Starting with a few sketches, I decided that a square-ish structure with a slanted roof, like Chris’s was a fair starting point. Because I was optimistic about using the larger 11″ x 14″ boards for the roof and floor, I biscuit joined several strips of the narrower boards using a similar technique as when I’m building custom frames. There were biscuits installed each place there’s a piece of tape. This was about to become the front panel.

Laying out boards and measuring for even biscuit connections.

The boards were assembled carefully so as to align with one another. A quick photo of that for your enjoyment:

Joining the boards together.

Once together, they remained clamped overnight, and then sanded the following day for a smooth finish. After that point, I decided to make the bird door for the front panel; I used a simple 2″ hole saw bit on the cordless drill, and decided to position the door slightly off center for effect.

Flawlessly round bird entryway.I followed similar logic for the back panel of the house, and mitered the top of each board to a 15-degree angle to accept the angled roof that I envisioned. Thank you, handy bevel.

Of course, I’ll be totally honest and tell you that it took me at least 8 cuts to get the angles right, facing the right direction, matching each other, etc. I was kind of an angry-at-myself goon by the 8th time I messed up my cuts and added another biscuited board to the front of the house since I had eliminated any real chance of having a slanted roof having made an ungodly amount of inaccurate cuts. That’s the beauty of the biscuit; it’s a quick and simple way to marry two pieces of lumber in happy union.

Another reason I like the biscuited look is that the horizontal lines are subtly made visible by the inconsistent wood grain. Unless they’re royal mid-century birdlets, they probably won’t give a chirp, but I like it.

By this point, I had the front and back panels of the house. They measured 6″ x 8″ (front), and 3.5″ x 8″ (back). The symmetrical side panels, I had decided would also be 3.5″ by 8″, which means there’s going to be extra ventilation as the roof extends from the back to the front.

I biscuited these pieces together as well, although I did follow up with a nail gun in a few places for added security, since I was planning on using it all along for the base and roof assembly.

Birdhouse, front to back.

Because I had the main structure in place before building the floor, measuring and installing that floor was very easy; I simply measured the house, and slid in a piece of wood to serve as the base. It was right around this point that I realized I could arrange to have an easy access point, and removed the floor that was a perfect fit, cut it into two pieces (2/3 and 1/3). The larger flooring piece was affixed to the side walls via nail gun, and the smaller panel was attached using a single screw into the back of the house horizontally, so that to remove it and clean the birdhouse, all I had to do was remove that screw and drop the small panel out. I anticipate it being a piece of cake, and even pre-drilled a hole in case I wanted to twist a screw or hook into the bottom of the panel to help extract it.

A single screw holds a removable floorboard in place so that it can be dropped down for cleaning purposes.

As I said before, the nail gun was best suited for attaching the remainder of the base and the roof (which is 11″ x 14″ if you’re wondering) to the structure securely. We really love this pancake compressor, and use it and it’s accessories as often as we can.

The final step was to drill a small hole to make a bird perch using a leftover wooden dowel a.k.a. a fancy green pencil that I had in the house. The 9/32 bit is the perfect size to drill the size of a pencil, for the record.How’s that little pop of color for you? I positioned it slightly below the entryway, and forced it about 2″ inside the house as well so even from inside the birds could jump up to the door easily.

Pencil perch on the birdhouse.

The finished house received a final sanding to smooth out any rough edges, and is currently waiting install on the fence in my backyard, probably right in amongst all of those roses in the background once they’ve finished blossoming. My house is loaded with roses right now, by the way. It’s quite nice.

DIY mid-century modern birdhouse


The Man’s New Throne

June 23, 2011   //  Posted in: Basement, Bathroom, DIY, Tools   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

Here's the framed (but not finished) basement. Sink, toilet, lighting.A quick intro to a not-so-quick post: Let me backtrack 6 months to when we were demo-ing the basement “bathroom”. The half-bath (shown in that thumbnail to the left) in the corner of the otherwise unfinished basement was nothing to rave about; the water to the sink wasn’t hooked up, and while the toilet was functional, it had been leaking for who-knows-how-long and destroyed the raised platform floor. I believe my home inspector called it “spongey” in his report.

The situation didn’t bother me too much; I had a full, non-spongey bathroom upstairs. Sidenote: I’ve heard that many local-to-Rochester, NY American Foursquares are set up to have toilets in the unfinished basement. So weird.

Anyways, Pete claimed it as his bathroom for when he was working in the basement; said it was manly and convenient and he liked it because he could wear his muddy Doc Martens to the bathroom without worrying about tracking the mud up the stairs and across the West Elm bath mats. Fair enough, but that meant that the spongey situation had to be fixed.

We tore out the vanity, and tore out the wall enclosure – you can read about the whole plan here and here. (We’ve been using those materials for various projects, like building the workbench and my gardening storage).

The basement bathroom, torn apart (and extra lumber ready to be used in future projects).

And that brings me back to present day. The toilet and remainder of the platform were the last things to be removed. Basic uninstall of the toilet, and demo of the remaining soggy wood (which went straight to the trash), left us with a blank slate in which to build a new platform on which we could re-install the toilet.

Pete covered the area in sawdust to help absorb some of the moisture that had gathered on the floor. This seemed to help a lot after a day of absorbing and evaporating. Since we knew that the leakage was just from the faulty toilet, we knew the wetness wouldn’t be an ongoing issue.

Platform and toilet free, we used sawdust to absorb moisture in the basement.

As you can see in that last picture, the plumbing forces the toilet to sit about 9″ off the ground. Pete figured out how tall the platform needed to be based on that, and built a 3′ x 5′ structure that was tall enough to support the toilet, and wide/long enough to be comfortable for the person using it. Toilet user space is such a classy topic.

Hi, Pete here. Not only did I choose 3’x5′ because it was comfortable, but also because that just happens to be the uncut dimension of HardieBacker® 1/4” Cement Board.

Each board that Pete used in the new platform construction was partially wrapped with plastic; just a little something to help keep the wood from absorbing inevitable moisture from the concrete. You can see it a bit here in this photo with the finished platform and soon-to-be-installed OSB.

3'x5' platform along with a piece of OSB to serve as a floor base.

The OSB installation was a breeze – it was connected to the platform with basic wood screws. The cement board, unlike the OSB, needed to be mortared and then screwed into place with cement screws, which were bought and used in that step. The next picture, taken at some point between the OSB install and before the cement board was dropped on is decent for scaling the real size of the platform when compared to my feet. And it’s a little mortaring-technique action shot for you guys. Pete’s a blur in most photos I take of him, and occasionally I have to ask for a “FREEZE” to get him non-blurred when I’m using the iPhone.

Mortaring the OSB prior to affixing the cement board to the platform.

When it came to tiling the surface of the platform, we were approaching it with a “this-is-our-first-tiling-project-ever-practice-run” for when we get around to doing other projects on my wish list (like the entryway, the bathroom, the kitchen).

I found a whole bunch of tile in my basement from the previous owners, and our full-intent was to put it to use on the platform during this tiling test run. (Read: free!)

Just one of many containers of leftover gray tile in the basement.

They’re neutral gray, and free is just the ticket. It was a good plan until we noticed that they had been previously mortared. Semi-blow to my positive attitude. Before I could get too far with a plan to try and chip off the remaining mortar by hand, Pete observed that the tiles were an odd 6.5″ square size and to fit on the 3′ x 5′ platform, we’d have to do a lot of avoidable tile cutting… without wet saw access. Another blow to my now semi-positive attitude.

I sulked a little bit about missing out on being able to use the free stuff, but got over it when we went to Home Depot and bought the plainest-of-the-plain 12″ ceramic tiles that were clearance priced at a sweet 88-cents/sq. ft. (down from $1.23/sq. ft. which is still mighty cheapola). At least we knew that the even 12″ tiles would fit evenly on our 3′ x 5′ structure without much extra work.

Basement platform tile, plan B. The cheap stuff.

The tiling process was as easy as I could have expected; with the cement board screwed in place, we applied mortar slowly across the platform (and also buttered the backside of each tile, thank you DIY Network). The tiles went down and aligned very nicely, except, oh, see those two missing tiles at the top around the plumbing?

Platform tile going in!Tile cutting was inevitable. Did you read earlier when I said we didn’t have a wet saw?

We tried both an angle grinder and a few Dremel attachments to try and cut out the half-circles that needed to come out of each of the two tiles. None of those efforts worked, so don’t even try it yourself; we ended up taking a quick road trip to a friend’s house for some wet sawing therapy before all the hand-mixed mortar dried up on us. It was like the Amazing Race of DIY, the race against the stubborn substance that wants nothing more than to cure in a huge bucket and become unusable. A race against the clock. It was actually Scott from the Hamilton Productions Workpad post + fiancee Sherri that came to the rescue here, and boy oh boy, did we appreciate the last-minute-availability and tutorial on using the wet saw (also the first time using one). P.S. Doesn’t the lawn look so lush over at their pad?

Cutting lines into the tile with a wet saw.

Because the saw only cut straight lines, we cut narrow, parallel strips into the tile, and then chipped each manageable piece out individually. Good technique for a wet-sawing newbie. Write that down.

Cutting lines into the tile with a wet saw.

And yes, we did beat the clock, making it home before the mortar went unusable and got the last two tiles worked into place. We let the mortar set for two days to dry thoroughly.

Mortared tiles in place.

When it came time to grout, we chose a simple dark gray color that we mixed ourselves instead of buying a pre-made container. I liken it to making your own inexpensive macaroni salad instead of buying the tub of it at the store.

Grout time!

The toilet install was the final step, using a new wax ring and the existing fixture, but noticed that once it was installed it was leaking from the tank.

Washers in the bottom of the toilet tank.

At least Pete’s handy and knew that this was probably because the rubber washers used on the bottom of the tank were deteriorating and needing to be replaced, so after another trip to Home Depot, he had the parts he needed, emptied the tank, and made the swap.

To clean up the edges of the platform, Pete custom-made trim for the exposed two edges out of wood that had been used in the original bathroom structure. Also, he painted the walls surrounding the area that were dirty (not mold, just a combo of previous water damage and never-painted walls that were hidden in the original half-bath, we think).

Perfect seal, clean space, and a finished basement bathroom platform.

Hi, Pete here, again. Wow, look at the difference between the old, disgusting wall that was covered and the nice, new white from the UGL DRYLOK® Waterproofer. Now I just have to clean the grout off the trim panels I put up and paint them.

Finished Bathroom Platform

Kind of exposed, so knock before going to the basement. I suppose it would decrease the manly rating if I hung a yellow ruffly curtain around the edge?

P.S. You might be wondering where the vanity went. To the curb, baby; it was a 1940’s crumbling mess. There’s a sink in the basement that is totally usable 5 steps from the toilet. Now, where to put the toilet paper?