Sunday, September 30, 2007

Plaster repair links

Here are sites that tell you how to fix plaster way better than I can.

Plaster basics

Step-by-step repair instructions using plaster washers (can purchase from that site)

Big Wally's Plaster Magic, which involves injecting an adhesive into the wall rather than using screws. Recommended by This Old House.

Don't want to do it yourself?
Grace Plastering (402) 896-4638
Willard P Christensen Plastering (402) 558-1927

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Patching plaster

I'm digging this new product from Menards: MH Ready Patch.

It patches plaster or drywall. It's smoother than the patching plaster I've used before and doesn't seem as difficult when I'm sanding.

About $15 a gallon.

Workbench organization

I picked up this tip from John Leeke, a preservationist who is a regular speaker at Restore Omaha, a weekend of classes and home tours for old-home people.

Organize your workbench with gallon Ziploc bags packaged by project.

Free paint

Omaha's household hazardous waste facility, Under the Sink, gives away any materials it gets that can be reused. Free!

I went there for the first time today and walked out with two gallons of Ralph Lauren paint.

In addition to paint, they've got wallpaper stripper, tile adhesive, deck stain and more. Free!

To drop off products, you have to make an appointment, but they've set it up very efficiently with a drive-up door and workers that come out to your car.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Bonus shipment

I ordered grey tile online to add a stripe to the white tile for the bathroom floor.

I thought it'd be a classy detail for an extra $28. (Total price for tile floor: $110)

I was a little surprised that the shipment was so large when I got this (left) Thursday.

But whatever. I can't really visualize square feet in my head.

Then Friday, I got the shipment on the right.

Hmmm. Looks like someone else had trouble with the math, too.

In any case, there's one charge on my flip credit card, and won't this look sweet when it's done?

Archaelogical dig

My friend Mark peered into this floor grate and said, oh, they lined the vent with felt.

Granted, I have to take credit for a sprinkling of insulation from the contractor's work, but the rest?

Let's just say the pennies underneath the dust were from 1979-1982.

A century of paint layers

The bedroom off of the dining room had paneling on the wall on the left. It had been held up by a delightful combination of nails AND adhesive, leaving pockmarks and wavy stripes of dried glue.

The wallpaper steamer softened the adhesive -- and the paint, creating a gooey mess.

Most effective: Chip with a wallpaper scraper, then sand with a random orbital sander.
Does this look like a used Everlasting Gobstopper or what?

This is how you can find the historic colors of your home, if you're a die-hard preservationist.
You also can take a small divot of plaster out with the tip of a small knife.

Historic paint links:


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Galvanized pipes gotta go

What a week it's been. New furnace, new plumbing, roof repair, drywall.

And I didn't have to do a lick of it. :)

Nasty old pipes removed

If you have a house with old galvanized pipes (grey pipes in photo), you likely can run so many water-based things at one time. At my house, you flush after you shower if you want to bathe immediately because that filling toilet sucks up all the water coming upstairs.

It's kind of a rock-paper-scissors game: Bathroom faucet beats toilet. Toilet beats shower. Washing machine beats shower. Kitchen faucet beats shower.

People often think they have low water pressure, but plumbers have told me the problem typically is low volume.

Those old galvanized pipes corrode on the inside over time, slowly constricting the space to carry water. (see disgusting corrosion pictures)

The solution: Replace pipes with copper. Which is easy for me to say because my flip has an unfinished basement and a main-floor bathroom, giving plumbers easy access.

I thought it was worth the whole shebang to upgrade the pipes. I wanted to move the sink and dishwasher for a more sensible kitchen layout. There was some creative plumbing over the years that has given every contractor the giggles when they see it.

All home inspectors check the water supply, too (It's a fancy test: Turn on the bathroom sink and tub faucets and flush the toilet at the same time. If they all work at once, you've got good volume/pressure).

Copper= new water pipes, White=new PVC drain pipe, Silver=electrical conduit

Southside Plumbing did a great job of getting the new pipes snug to the ceiling in case the basement is finished someday. They're reliable and reasonably priced.

Other plumbing tips:
  • Check the size of the water supply pipe coming into the house. This should be near the shutoff valve. Call the city or your water utility to ask. Both of my houses have 1-inch pipe coming in, then half-inch pipe in the house, putting a good dent in the volume. The flip's pipes jumped a size with this week's upgrade.
  • Check your aerator if you're getting less water from your faucets. It's a little screen that gets clogged sometimes. How to check: Grab the tip of the faucet where the water comes out and unscrew it. Turn on the faucet. If you've got plenty of water with the aerator removed, clean it, or buy a new one. Take it with you to the store because there are a maddening array of choices. I put up with a trickle of water for handwashing after flushing the toilet, then figured out all I needed was a $2 aerator.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Renovation story problems

If your bathroom floor needs 25 square feet of 3/4x3/4-inch tile, which comes in one-square-foot sheets, and you want to add a grey stripe around the perimeter of the floor, but the grey tile comes in quarter-square-foot sheets ... what time will the two trains meet?

(Thanks for the punch line, Mark.)

I wanted to do something with a historic influence with the bathroom tile. Historic tile article

A scorching sale on hex tile at Mosaic Tile Market's web site sold out faster than I moved, but I got sheets of tiny square tile instead for less than $4 a square foot, including shipping. (I just found out why while trying to post the link: That company closed and has become Mod Walls.)

The contractor breathed a sigh of relief -- the square tile is an easier install than slicing through all those hexes. Good to know.

Mosaic Supply sells small amounts, intended for artists but great for dinky bathrooms and accent pieces. I bought the tile for the stripe there.

Lowe's carries white subway tile for 19 cents a piece. That will go in the shower. It may take you three trips to two stores over a week to get enough, but ...

Tip: If you have a popular style that you might want to buy later, get the product number and call the flooring department before making your trip.

Want the spendy historically accurate stuff?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Disappearing duct

Yesterday the new furnace went in. The home inspector had found a large crack in the heat exchanger in the old one.

I used a neighborhood business, AA American Heating and Air.

The furnace installer tucked the ductwork to the bathroom up in the joist at no extra charge.

Head room!

Moving that duct to improve the space cost me a half-hour of time, yet was something that turns off buyers who might not realize how simple it is.

Bonus: The installer's "junk guy" who hauled away the old furnace took the washer and dryer, too. (I found the washer instructions last week -- from 1962!)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Duct relocation

One of the flip's little puzzles is how to reconfigure the basement stairs.

Right now, only a petite sixth-grader could walk downstairs without getting beaned.

Left: Sign from the estate sale

It would cost about $1,000 to move the drain pipe where the sign is hanging, then we'd still have to cut into the upstairs floor to create head room.

Instead, we're looking at removing the turn in the stairs and shooting the stairs straight alongside that wall.

Helpful tool: Staircase calculator.

So I'm trying to move all the other stuff in the way of the proposed staircase.

Like this gorgeous duct on the left, which was the main view on the downstairs descent.

The ductwork leading to this nasty elbow ate up prime head space in the basement, as you can see on the left.

When you see crazy ductwork like this, follow it to see where it goes.

The vent ended behind the bathroom vanity, where it created a nice batch of mildew as cool air blew against the damp particleboard.

Look for another option.

The duct can be tucked up in the ceiling joists, and the vent moved to a more sane location in the bathroom.

It took me about 20 minutes to pull it down. The newer ductwork was held up with a few sheet metal screws. The old vent had a few nails, and only one piece of wire strung up the nasty elbow.

Left: Inside nasty elbow duct

Another point: Get your vents cleaned once in a while.

For my house, I used:

McGill Environmental Cleaning

(402) 551-0999

It cost about $300. Count the number of vents in the house and they can give you an estimate by phone.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Delivered goods

For some reason, I never knew that Menards would deliver. Makes perfect sense. Never crossed my mind.

For $45, they delivered a stack of 4x12-foot drywall, 10-foot boards and cement board (it's like cement-based drywall, you use it behind tile in wet areas to avoid rot, mold, etc. It's heavy. You want a dude with a forklift to bring it to your house.)

I was delighted when I could add another eight sheets of drywall by phone the day before delivery.

Then I was bummed. Three drywall sheets were cracked, a board had ill-placed knots, and they forgot the addition to the order.

I groaned, in anticipation of the hassle to fix this.

But with a five-minute phone call, Menards apologized and offered to have the replacements delivered the next morning. Slick.

Building back up

All of the main floor ceilings had that foot-square vintage acoustic tile common in old homes.

It had a embossed needlepoint-style pattern with a subtle cream and white color combo that made them look dirtier than they were.

I debated what to do. Paint? Remove?

If I took them down, what would I find?

Original on left; with a coat of paint on right

I took them down in the kitchen and entry, where the tiles had slight stains.

The ceiling plaster was cracked a little, but not bad. Some had old wallpaper.

I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to go for the whole main floor. Estimated cost: around $1,000.

My boyfriend and my friend Laura spent Thursday night ripping out the rest and pulling what felt like roughly 7,000 staples from the furring strips.

Above: Dining room on Thursday

The transformation has begun.

The contractor spent Friday and Saturday getting the drywall up.

He's ready to start mudding.

Left: Dining room on Saturday


If I have the time, I troll the aisles for clearance stickers when I go to Lowe's or Menards.

Yesterday it paid off.

A $150 vanity and sink for $36.

I mean, I already have a vanity/sink I was going to use, but I also have the receipt. :)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sunrise shopping

View from the back porch at dawn

I was able to take this picture because I got up at 5:30 a.m.Friday to go to Menards.

Managing a flip and a full-time job is a handful. I think I have been to Lowe's and Menards five times this week, mostly before work.

It's a great time to shop because no one else is there, except for a handful of bleary-eyed contractors wondering what some chick in a nice sweater and denim without holes is doing there at that time of day. Why, picking up an insulation blower, of course.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Flippin' advice

A few suggestions from my experience so far:
  • Get a separate credit card for flip expenses for easier financial tracking. I'm using Citi's Home Mortgage card, where the rebates go toward the mortgage on my original house.
  • Save the cell phone numbers of contractors who come to give you bids. That way you can nag directly rather than going through the office.
  • Make a cheat sheet with all contractors' names and numbers. I keep fumbling through business cards to make followup calls. Add the hours of home-improvement stores to your list ... I'm headed to Menards and Lowe's now ...

A perfect shade of aqua

"The American Home," April 1959

I think I came across the inspiration for the robin's-egg blue color scheme.

All main floor rooms except the kitchen and bath are this color.

This was among the boxes of saved magazines in the house.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

From zero to 110 mph

My contractor arrived Monday. I think there's only one way to describe him.
Full throttle.

Blair is a police officer who has a blossoming home-improvement business on the side, Howling Dog Construction.

He's created a whirlwind of ordering where I spent two grand before I even went to work yesterday.

He starts Friday and thinks he can get all of the ceilings drywalled and most of the bathroom done on his three-day weekend. Will he live up to his expectations?
Stay tuned ...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Basement artiste

How 'bout this decorative gem on the basement wall ...

Holy hostas!

The flower bed along the front porch was jam-packed with hostas that had not been split in decades.

These were plain green, growing as thick as grass and hung over the sidewalk.

I moved 20 to the back yard, let my friend Jenni pilfer a few and I STILL had 45 separate plants.

Before: 45 of the 70+ hostas

I'll admit, I'm a hosta snob.

I took splits of a few unusual varieties from my yard and put a light-and-day hydrangrea in the center.

They look a little spindly now, but they'll fatten over the winter like a Fargo farmwife.

I found these cute little vintage -- I have no idea what these are called.

There were two under the front porch. I repainted them and used them to frame the front flower bed.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Gardening must-have

Creating garden space?
It's about $40, but well worth it if you have virgin soil. I found it on clearance about this time one year at WalMart (Menards sells it, too).

You stick in The Claw into the ground and twist it. It loosens soil and
removes grass like a dream.
I used it today to break up clay-like soil in a flower bed that had been untouched for years.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Made in the shade

The fence along the back lot line was held together by Virginia creeper vines.

After fence removal

The new view from my backyard

I explained my situation to the guys from Omaha Tree:

I just bought this house, I live next door, here's whatcha gonna do:

You trim this tree in the flip yard based on how it affects the view from my back yard. (oh, yeah, and get the branches out of the electrical lines, too)


The grass under the tree looked like a failed Rogaine experiment, just a few scrawny tufts, so I've started a shade garden. Here's what I found for part shade plants beyond the usual hostas (big bargains at Lowe's and Menards garden centers now):

Rhododenron, Summersweet: Tall-growing bushes to screen the back alley eventually

(I've got a weigela and forsythia bush on the sunny corner on the right, you know, next to the 1962 washing machine waiting for pick up.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The walls came tumbling down

The house, built in 1903, still had a coal room in the basement, dating back to the days when coal was stored for the old furnace. That's the coal room on the left, with retro patio stuff on the floor.

The floor was covered with a layer of junk, a layer of cardboard, two layers of loose wood scraps, then lo and behold, a dirt floor. Of course, covered in thousands of tiny coal shards. (Yes, I wear a respirator mask.)

The walls were lined with such fine insulating material as an old "wife-beater" tank top, a plastic tablecloth, 1952 Omaha World-Herald newspapers, a peach crate, old beadboard and more.

It came apart in about an hour or so, with a pry bar and hammer. Above are the scraps in the back yard. Empty at last. Now to get a hold of a concrete guy ...

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Getting plastered

So I was thinking to myself, I don't look too bad in my work clothes. I could run to Lowe's for another half-price rhododendron and pick up a gallon of vinegar at the grocery store.

I thought I'd do one more round of plaster patching beforehand, so I moved the ladder.


The plastic container managed to scrape my leg twice between knee and ankle on the way down. No skirts for me this week.

Other lessons learned over the years:

Do not stand on a cooler with wheels to install pipe wrap on pipes that are juuuust out of reach.

Beware that rollup shades installed on porches may contain copious amounts of bird droppings, which will inevitably be released while you are five feet up on a ladder.

Do not crush homemade toffee with a quart of paint.

Do not ask Boyfriend to remove shoe molding ("hey, do you have any wood glue?"), clean the alley retaining wall (goodbye, forsythias, I will miss you), etc. etc.

Wallpaper paste be gone

After on left; before on right
(I hope I didn't really need to say that.)

It is SO rare to have instant gratification from a house project. (I think this is why I like to paint. Visible progress is one day.) But try this tip, from a colleague who recently bought a house with lots o' flocked wallpaper:

Combine two parts hot water to one part apple-cider vinegar.

Soak wallpaper and/or paste with vinegar mixture, using a sponge. (Use one with a ScotchBrite pad on the reverse side for extra scouring power).

In literally a minute, I was able to wipe off the paste that had defied the wallpaper steamer.

I smell like a pickle, but that's small price to pay.