Sunday, December 16, 2007

Gardening program

I was up before the newspaper arrived this morning, so I flipped on the TV and came across this great show: Garden Smart on PBS.

The web site has short video clips of gardening tips, like a 4-minute clip on how to prune roses.

Just what I needed after shoveling out yesterday from our fourth round of snow this season.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Seeing green

For some reason, I went into a full-scale panic when I saw my sage-green kitchen tile against the countertops.

Would a buyer think it's an avocado-green albatross?

I got the most of the tile at a great price at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore and snagged an extra box through the manufacturer.

Had I shaped the whole kitchen around something I should have never chosen?

I walked the beige aisles at Lowe's and decided to stick to my plan and hope for the best.

Not bad at all.

Completely unplanned:

The upper cabinets are a larger-than-average 42 inches because the kitchen ceiling is 9 feet tall.

By coincidence, the 6x6-inch tile and an oversized copper faucet ended up being a nice balance out the large cabinets.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Now that the electrician is done in the kitchen, I finally could set the countertops in place to see if the size worked. Not bad.

You can see the odd cuts that had to be made to make this work.

Primed wainscoting

Man, this wainscoting is going to look sharp. This is with a coat of primer.
This is in the upstairs master bedroom. A classy way to conceal plaster that had many holes from a previous rewiring project.


Last weekend, with a hand from Brit, we finished the last of the main floor priming. The mint green walls are gone!

Here you can also see the newly painted front door and new oiled-rubbed bronze and speckled glass ceiling light.

We're getting there.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Knob and tube wiring

I had been told that the house's wiring had been updated by an electrician in Aunt June's family.

Well, not entirely.

I have found a few spots with old "knob and tube" wiring. This freaks some people out.

My understanding is, as long as the black material that insulates the wire is in good condition and the area isn't packed with insulation, it's just fine.

More info:

Knob and tube wiring (includes pictures of dangerous wiring)

More K&T

History of knob and tube

Electrical systems in old houses

Wall bump explanation

Two kitchen walls had an odd raise in them, like a vertical speedbump.
Last weekend the plaster came down, this weekend the lathe, revealing the explanation.
In the center of the wall where the speedbump was, the lathe was attached to a vertical piece of wood -- that was not attached to anything. ???

Loose wood that held lathe

There are good solid studs on the wall. Yet the lathe was hanging on this unanchored board.

Go figure. It'll be smooth drywall soon.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

One step back

Two steps forward with new cabinets, one step back with plaster removal

I have finally conceded to the north kitchen wall.

The other walls were either so damaged that drywall was a given, or the cracked areas will be covered by cabinets or the tile backsplash.

The north wall, I tried to save. It clearly was the best of the group, but that's not saying much.

It had a funny rise in the center, a gentle speed bump running vertically. There already was a thin layer of something -- not quite fabric, not really wallpaper -- that I presume was added to conceal cracks at least 30 years ago.

So I tackled it with patching plaster and sandpaper, hoping to save a little money.

When I began another round of work, the previous "fabric" layer had turned brittle and pulled away from the wall. A tiny bit of probing created the holes above.

I looked around the kitchen at the new maple cabinets, the smooth drywalled corner awaiting a fridge. The north wall was the big flaw in an otherwise upgraded room.

So out came the crowbar.

Plaster removal tips:
  • The ceiling had already been drywalled. Blair the contractor told me to slice a line along the top end of the wall with a utility knife. This cut the drywall tape in half. Otherwise, the tape would have ripped off the ceiling, too, and created even more work.
  • Smash the crowbar hook into the plaster about every 3 to 6 inches in a vertical line.

  • The plaster may crack, connecting the crowbar indents. Sometimes it needs some extra encouragement from a hammer.

  • I then use the crowbar's flat end to pry off the loosened plaster.
  • I cleaned up the wall's edges by taking a smaller pry bar with a sharper edge and hitting it with a hammer.

See the vertical line that is different than the rest? It was a section of 4-inch lathe, where the rest is about 4-feet long. That's where the wall's "speedbump" was. It seemed to have an extra thick layer of original plaster. Go figure.

In the upper right is the hole where the original electrical box was. The wires come up from the basement and connect to the upstairs wiring there.

Of course, I realize now that I should have done this at the beginning, but live and learn.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Need rock?

Lowe's is having a super sale on 1/2 cubic foot bags of gray rock -- 58 cents a bag, down from nearly $3. One bag covers three square feet.

I'm using it for a bulb garden along the south side of the house.

Now this is one of those things I didn't have to do.

There is a one-foot-wide flower bed between the house and sidewalk (see above).

To me, the dark lava rock looked tacky against the white foundation. Nothing but weeds were growing there.

I worried that some perennials would crowd the sidewalk. Instead, I planted clusters of daffodil, tulip and crocus bulbs, which bloom at different times in the spring and early summer. They have a tight growth pattern and will spread naturally over the years.

Altogether, it was an afternoon of work and about $25.

This also happens to be my view from the window over my kitchen sink. Perhaps my motives were not entirely pure.

Web sites:
Bulb garden basics
Naturalizing bulbs from You Grow Girl

Gorgeous copperwork

Des Moines artist Ranee Roed makes beautiful Arts and Crafts style metal house numbers, mailboxes, push button switch plates and more. She's having 10% off holiday orders.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

One more piece

The countertops have arrived!

Again, this was an area where I felt much more comfortable using a local company than a big-box store. The kitchen has a wall that jogs over twice (like you could put a Murphy bed in the center), making the floor plan unusual.

Ahleeya at CFO knew exactly what I needed from my kitchen plan and measurements. The dude at Menards just kind of stared at me.

CFO orders the countertop materials, then their on-site carpentry staff makes the custom cuts.

In an old house, nothing is quite square. CFO called to double-check the measurements because "they didn't add up." 26 inches+100 years=an unplumb wall

The countertop design allows for some forgiveness because it does not have an attached backsplash. The tiled backsplash will protrude about 3/4" over the countertop, so the countertop will not have to be perfectly flush against the wall.

In other kitchen progress, the electrician is adding kitchen outlets this week. Somehow, "Aunt June" managed with one four-outlet pod almost in the corner.

Then Blair the contractor will return to finish putting the kitchen together.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tips for idiots

This weekend's revelations:

  • Put the lid on the paint can before tipping it to read the side.
  • Maintain a good grip when using the cordless drill over the toilet.

What's going on

I'm working on getting the "half done" done. The house flip is littered with aborted projects when something seemingly more pressing arose, supplies ran out, weather changed.

I've been able to cross off small retaining wall, exterior concrete patching and main floor plaster work in the last weeks. I got the front door and lattice work under the porch painted over the warm weekend. The first coat of paint went on the bathroom woodwork.

But there's a lot more finish work to go ...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Baby your mitts

If you spend the day clawing in the garden or mixing mortar, try Burt's Bees Hand Salve. An $8 tin will last a lifetime. Or wear gloves, sissy.

As long as I'm pimping Burt, if you get poison ivy, Burt's Bees Poison Ivy Soap is a savior.

Speedy delivery

The kitchen pieces and parts keep arriving. On my doorstep.

That's a bone-colored acrylic sink on bottom on the photo. Bought it at Lowe's, and it showed up at the house (funny, the Lowe's folks didn't mention this, but whatever). Cool.

I found the antique copper faucet online (antique describes the color, not the age of the faucet) at 1StopLighting at half of the manufacturer's price. It matches the cabinet knobs and vintage bin pulls for the drawers. Sweet.
I'm getting the kitchen ceiling light from the same company -- only $15 shipping for both.
The color samples in the pic are the sage green tile backsplash, cherry cupboards and yellow pine floors.

It'll all come together one of these days.

Mortar magic



Check out this stuff.

Quikrete Mortar Repair is a caulk that has little sand bits mixed in it to make it resemble mortar.

(p.s. use plain caulk for hairline cracks -- the sand is too large in this stuff.)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Puss in cement boots?

What does it mean when a black cat crosses your concrete project?

This is not our cat. We had never seen her before. She spent almost the whole afternoon waltzing in our concrete projects.

Kitty's gonna have some cement boots if she doesn't knock it off.

Concrete jungle

Now - my first concrete patch

This was so easy. I couldn't believe it.

  • Get guidance at Quickrete before you go to the store and determine what you need before you wade into the dizzying selection.

  • Have more than one project? Black and Decker's masonry book covered four projects on my list. I got it from the magazine rack at Menards.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Wainscoting solution

The master bedroom upstairs had been rewired long ago, by smashing holes in the plaster, which had been covered with masking tape instead of repaired. (I have no idea why the pile of tan bricks was there.)

Wow. This picture sucks.

You can see a few holes on the left.

My friend Jenni had the great idea of installing wainscoting rather than adding to my lengthy plaster-patching list.

I picked a few photos from Pottery Barn and ran them past Blair the contractor. Look at what he's done.


He also routed a little line in the chair rail so pictures can be propped on it. Sweet.

A coat of paint and this room is going to be sharp.

Medicine cabinet glory

Sometimes you have to do what's right, not the cheapest. Perhaps that's not a good flipping mantra, but ....

In the piles of stuff left in the old house, I found what appeared to be the original medicine cabinet door. The rest of it was long gone.

My contractor built a cabinet to fit the door and the recess in the bathroom wall. It looks like something out of the Rejuvenation catalog.

I had the old beveled mirror resilvered (not installed in photo above), a dying trade still offered in Omaha. Resilvering a 16x20 mirror cost $62 -- a new one would have cost about $75.

Wooden Ways & Olden Days
2823 S 87th St, Omaha (402) 393-2607
mirror resilvering, caning, furniture repair

Now I could have just gotten a stock cabinet at a big box store for $100 or so.

All told, I spent about $150. Well worth it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Better, better bath

You know you're making progress when the toilet is back in the bathroom.
The vanity, faucets, lights and stool went in over the weekend.

Remember when ....


Blair the contractor got the basement stairs reconfigured this weekend. Wow.

If you recall, at 5-foot-6, I had to seriously duck to get downstairs.



Now a six-footer can walk down without bonking his noggin.

This project has taken about $600 and a little brainpower to get stuff out of the way:

  • I removed old heat duct and relocated it during bathroom remodeling.

  • Scott the plumber ran pipes tight to the ceiling and relocated the washer hookup when basement got new copper pipes.

  • Contractor ran bathtub drain line closer to ceiling.

In the end, the basement seems much more user-friendly, and hopefully that will be worth the rather modest expense. Yay.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Small retaining wall work

This stacked limestone retaining wall in the back yard collapsed during the rainstorms in May, before the house was mine.

My contractor's wife's cousin (follow that?) put it back together again in a half day this week.

For retaining walls and more, call:
Mike, 402-208-6521

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Kitchen color combo

A hint of what's to come in the kitchen (does that make it a "flip-tease"?).

The splurges:

Cabinets: Aristokraft Avalon in maple with rouge finish: $3,100

Countertop: WilsonArt Terra Roca, "a combination of bronze and chocolate with flecks of green:" $600 The green flecks don't show well on this computerized image, but it pulls in the color of the tile below.

The bargains:
Floor: Refinish original yellow pine floor: $325 (Photo above is finished floor in my house.)

Backsplash: DalTile's Semi-gloss 6x6-inch in Cypress. Two boxes from Habitat ReStore: $20, third box from DalTile: $40.

Knobs: Brushed copper from Marie in west omaha, via Craig's List: $30

They match two copper "bin pull" drawer handles salvaged from a random drawer in the flip basement: $0

Saturday night flipping fever

The Saturday slate of "flip this house" shows has become a well-timed ego boost.

Inevitably, I've spent my day sanding plaster or driving to every home-improvement store in the metro.

Then I get to watch these fools.

In last night's episodes:
  • One flip had roaches, termites, rats, ants and a snake. In one house.
  • In arguably the best flipping videotape to date, a crew cutting down a tree uncaps an enormous hive of Africanized bees that attack the poor dude in the cherry picker, then chases the crew all the way down the street to their trucks.
  • A newlywed couple blows through $55,000 of their $60,000 budget in the first week before leaving for a two-week honeymoon in Italy.
  • First-time flippers were 50 to 300 percent over budget.
I, however, am within budget. My flip has one slender snake who may have an upcoming date with a weed-whacker. Feeling pretty good right now ...

Property Ladder
Flip That House
Real Estate Pros
Flip This House
Flipping Out

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hello, kitchen cabinets

June 2007: Kitchen, view from entry door

Now: Kitchen, view from entry door

Lesson: Old house kitchen=custom=$$$.

I thought I had been blessed with a larger than average kitchen for an older home at 11 1/2 by 13 feet. But my floor plan was more unusual than I expected.

The south wall bumps out one foot in two locations, as if you could mount a king-size Murphy bed on the wall. To get variety in cabinet sizes, I had to go up in price.

As much as I dig Menards, their kitchen staff was stumped and cobbled together what looked like something from a hideous college rental.

Cabinets Factory Outlet Plus designs on the spot and did a great job quickly at a decent price. However, I got the best price and design from Leah at Consolidated Kitchens and Baths.

The cabinets cost $3,100, about $1,000 more than I initially budgeted for a modest Menards line. What I got in return was good design with a lot of forethought.

There is no extra charge for the design service. During the planning stages, you can take computer sketches home, but you have to put down a deposit to get the plans with detailed measurements (about $300).

Leah works there because she loves to design kitchens. It turns out that she has flipped a few houses of her own. She was both style- and price-conscious.

Little things along the way told me a designer was the way to go. Like accounting for a protruding window sill in a cabinet door's path -- seems silly, but it was something I know I would have missed.

The designer comes to the home to do the final measure, which is a nice touch rather than having some peon do it.
  • Take careful measurements of the floor plan, including ceiling height, with you on your first trip. Let the designer know about any price parameters.
  • At CKF, you consult with a designer then make a followup appointment to see the plans.
  • The odd thing: The store has no prices on anything, so you're kind of floating blind, but be honest if cost is an issue and they will guide you.
  • CKF carries gorgeous stone and Corian countertops, but a tiny choice for laminate countertops if the budget is tight. Cabinet Factory Outlet Plus carries a wide line of laminates.
  • Bargains: Consolidated Kitchens has a bargain room in back -- a great place to shop for a bath vanity. Cabinet Factory Outlet has unfinished cabinets in stock and bargain countertops.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Evolution of a kitchen

Before, Aug. 16

Cabinets had a wood-grain Formica, interiors unfinished, odd kitchen layout

After cabinet removal, 8-26

Stripped to the bone, 9-13

Ready for cabinets, 10-17
Drywalled on left, patched and primed on right

Monday, October 15, 2007

Over and over

Posts have been few because recent work consists of:


I'm pushing to finish that work in the kitchen, because kitchen cabinets arrive Tuesday and installation is scheduled to start this week.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Creepy-awesome toilet tip

How is this for bizarre ... I'm sitting in the stripped-down kitchen of a vacant house, under the harsh glare of work lights, scrubbing an unhooked toilet with denture cleaner.

But let me start at the beginning ...

The toilet is a relatively newer model (well, for a 100-year-old house), but had a few rust stains. I consulted my friend Val, who cleans houses on the side. She said:


Browsing the denture products, I found a Sea-Bond Denture Brightening Cleanser, which came in a bottle with little brush on the lid rather than a tablet to soak.

It's pink gel?

I am going to let this one stand uncaptioned.


The stains are gone! In 30 seconds! (although somehow I managed to mess up the lighting enough that the toilet looks yellow in the picture. Take my word for it.)