Monday, May 23, 2011

It's ah-me... Mario!

Look at what that wacky husband of mine did today while I was at work:

He fixed the leaky pipe! As you can see from the pic above, he installed a thingamajig on the whatsitcalled. Look, I'm not a scientist. I'm just trying to tell you what he did.

But first, he had to install one these:

It's a compression fitting shut-off valve (also known as a doohicky). This allowed him to fix the leaky pipe without having to have the city turn off the water to the house. What a guy! I was going to Photoshop a photo of Rob's head onto Mario from Mario Brothers' body (you know, because he's a plumber and all), but I'd rather go hunt and gather some supper right now. Maybe next time. At any rate, I'm really proud of Rob and his handy work today with the plumbing situation in the basement.

But wait, there's more. He also started the bathroom project. I helped a little when I got home from work, but most of this was Rob's doing. Because scraping 50 years of paint off bathroom walls and ceilings sounds like a good time, right? Actually, no. No, it's not.

Here's a preview:

Good thing we got a jump start on what was intended to be an "easy weekend project." Wish us luck, people. Over and out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I'm plotting a Memorial Day weekend project

This is what I’d like to do.

When we bought the house, we had dreams of doing a complete bathroom remodel. We envisioned a spa-like tranquil sanctuary with natural stone (probably travertine) tiling, crisp white towels, and a relaxing jacuzzi bath. You know, something like this visual:

My original design board, made back in early 2009, looked like this:

Our plans have changed, for a variety of reasons. For one, we only have one bathroom. So doing a serious tear down/remodel would be pretty inconvenient considering I enjoy things like showering. Also our tub area is not quite standard, and so we’d have to knock down a wall and move it over a few inches to fit a jacuzzi bath tub. As much as I love white towels and rugs, I realized they aren’t very practical (especially when you have pets). And finally, because we recently decided it might not be wise to keep putting money into a house that is already declining in value due to the neighboring houses, we decided to scale back and instead do some smart and economical upgrades.

Before I get into the details, here's the bathroom as it looks today. Pretty ugly.

It's even worse up close (keep scrolling for pics).

So. Here’s what’s on the agenda for Memorial Day weekend.

Step 1: Scrape the walls. We need to remove the hideous popcorn texture that covers every surface of this room. I don’t know what the previous owners were thinking. The texture itself is gross, but it’s even worse that it’s peeling very badly. Here's Rob is pointing out some green paint that's popping out from under the current yellow:

And here's one after we scraped a little bit. You can see that the room was also pink at one time.

Step 2: Fill in any rough spots with putty and then paint walls. I’d like to pick a light neutral (probably not surprising given my previous wall color choices). This is my top color choice at the moment. It's Behr Antique Leather, and it's a little more gray in person:

I also like this one. Behr Riviera Beach.

I would like to point out that my sister-in-laws like to tease me about my neutral color choices. One even stated that I hate color. To them, I only have one thing to say for myself: "Don't hate! Appreciate!"

I feel better now. Neutral colors are classic and versatile, after all.

Step 3. Paint trim white. We are going to paint the trim around the window and closet.

Step 4: Clean up the caulking around the tub. It’s nasty! It’s really hard to clean too. I want to tear it out and re-do it. Should be a cheap and easy fix.

Note our wall tiles have some little yellow specks. We don't love them, but we can tolerate them.

Step 5: Clean and seal tile grout. I posted about this a while ago. Our tile grout is very porous. It seems to attract dirt, and it also happens to be really difficult to clean. We’re going to do some heavy cleaning and then seal the grout so that it looks good-as-new.

Step 6: Paint the closet shelves. This is a minor detail, but it will make things look nicer and more cohesive.

The blue papered shelves were done by the previous owners, and we've been too lazy to change it.

Step 7: New light fixture and mirror/medicine cabinet. The current ones are nasty (do you see the theme here?). We didn't even change the bulb that burned out since we knew we'd be replacing the fixture soon.

Incidentally we already found our new medicine cabinet. It's a classic white one that's only $30 at Home Depot. And we like this light fixture, $59 from Home Depot. The chrome matches our existing bathroom hardware. Or this one is also nice for just a little bit more.

Step 8: Replace the rusty vent cover. Words cannot describe how much I hate this thing.

We'll probably also get new outlet covers.

Step 9: New towels and bathroom rug? I put a question mark at the end of that statement because I haven’t cleared this with Rob yet. I think new towels would be the icing on the proverbial cake that is our updated bathroom. I'm dreaming about some gray ones, but we'll see how it works out.

AND so (drumroll please), here's the new and improved bathroom design board:

Pretty good compromise , if you ask me. And I think this is an attainable three-day weekend project, don’t you?

In closing, here’s some beautiful bathrooms. Ours won't look like any of these, but the photos will keep me inspired and motivated. (Pics from a simple Google image search.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Big decisions - which house improvements are worth the investment

There are a few foreclosures on our block. Unfortunately they keep dropping in price. This is concerning because it causes the value of our house to go down. I’ve looked at some of the listings for these houses online. Generally they are in worse shape than our house and need a lot more updating . Most of them do not have the addition (which adds a lot of valuable living space). So we’ve got that going for us, but it’s still kind of stressful to think about. We’ve already put a lot of work into this place, and we’ve got many more projects lined up. But we have heard the advice, time and time again, that it doesn’t pay to put large amounts of money into a property that is limited by its surrounding properties. In other words, you don’t want to have the nicest or most expensive house on the block because the other houses will only drag down its value (making your improvements less cost effective and not as worthwhile of an investment).

We have hence decided to table a lot of the renovation plans we currently have on our list. We may change our mind if the housing market turns around a bit, or if some of the houses on our block start selling. But we just don’t think it makes much sense to keep shoveling money into a house that is losing value based on the houses around it. We aren’t looking to move in the near future, but we also know this isn’t our forever home. So we want to make some carefully planned and reasonable improvements, but nothing too extravagant.

With that said, here’s a few of the plans that have been cut:

  • Jacuzzi tub. We had hoped to knock out our old cast iron tub, move the wall a bit, and install a relaxing jacuzzi tub. This doesn’t seem too practical given our current situation. Cut.
  • New deck and patio. Again, just not practical. We did add the 6-foot wooden privacy fence last fall, and that should be appealing to future potential buyers. When the day comes that we look at selling, we’ll probably pop a fresh coat of paint on the deck and call it a day. It’s sturdy and fairly spacious, after all, and so it’s fine for now.
  • Counter tops and kitchen tile. Well, this one hasn’t been officially cut. But for now, we are not looking too far into this project. Many people would argue that counter tops are a good improvement that will definitely add to your home's value. But our laminate counter tops aren't all that old, considering, and they do blend in fairly well. I'm not sure that the price of granite or butcher block for our large center island would result in direct returns on our home. The jury's still out on that one. So for now, we will table (that's a pun) the counter top plans. We did some work in the kitchen last year that really spruced things up (ripped down wall paper, added spackling to repair wall cracks, painted, and got new appliances). So for now, the kitchen is A-OK.
  • Refinishing the wood floors in the dining room and/or just installing new floors. We’ll probably leave this room as it is for at least the foreseeable future. It would be nice to get some new floors in there, but let’s face the facts. We have a 124 pound dog who likes to hang out in there. A new floor might not look nice and new for too long (we have our share of dog claw scratches already). So if we do decide to sell in the future, we may look at fixing up the dining room floors. Until then, this project is on hold.
  • New washer and dryer. Unfortunately we can’t justify buying a new set since our old ones are still working. As much as I’d love new high efficiency models, we are going to hold off for now.
BUT there’s still some fun to be had. (Maybe “fun” isn’t the right word, for all of these examples.) Here are the projects we are still planning to do.
  • Plumbing. Earlier this year, Rob installed a new water heater. He did a great job, but unfortunately exposed some other plumbing issues. We have very old pipes that are past their prime. We’re going to be putting in new pipes (probably Pex). I’m not looking forward to this project. In fact, “dread” is probably a more accurate word. Rob and I ripped down the ceiling earlier this year, so at least there’s easy access for this job.
  • Basement. We made a lot of progress on the basement remodel last year, but it was paused when we discovered the plumbing problems. We will proceed as planned with most of what’s left -- putting up drywall, tape/mud/paint, electrical wiring and lighting, base boards, builing bookshelves and a workbench.
  • Bathroom. We aren’t going to do a total bathroom remodel like we once dreamed about. Instead we’ll be doing a modified plan with a few cost-efficient upgrades. There’s more to talk about here, so I’ll save it for a future post.
  • Some yard work. I really want to rip out the mismatched and awkward shrubs and bushes that line the front of the house. I envision a nice garden with some hostas and tulips to add some curb appeal.
That list seems smart and attainable. For the record, when we do sell our house someday, I’m proud to say that the future owners will be getting a nicely updated abode. They will hopefully appreciate all of these wonderful things we’ve done:
  • Removed all wall paper and painted. Filled in cracks and holes in the walls.
  • Added livable space by finishing the basement. Added framing, insulation, laminate wood flooring, and storage. Knocked out a wall to make the space more open and removed fake wood paneling.
  • Replaced furnace.
  • Replaced water heater.
  • New central AC unit. (We actually didn’t do this, but it was done shortly before we moved in. However after we moved in, we were able to get it properly set on a concrete slab so that the unit will last a long time and function most efficiently.
  • Six foot privacy fence in the back yard.
  • New kitchen appliances (stove, fridge, dishwasher). We also replaced some old gas parts - the stove hookup and the shut-off valve - to improve things.
  • Ripped out past-its-prime carpet.
  • Added custom closets to the master bedroom (though we might take these with us when we leave since they are modular and can be moved - it would depend on whether or not a future buyer would be willing to pay a little extra for them).
  • We’ll probably leave all of the window treatments and blinds that we bought since some of them are custom sizes.
  • (Soon) All new plumbing pipes.
That’s a pretty good list, huh?

I do love our house and wouldn’t mind staying at this properly forever, if it was just a little bigger (yard more so than house, to be honest). Anyway we feel good about our decision to postpone some of our original plans and instead tackle some smart projects while continuing to build our savings for the future. Hopefully our loyal readers (or at least Scott, who complains when I don't post enough) won’t mind if this blog takes more of a lifestyle/random happenings focus rather than constant home improvement projects.

Tell me about your planned summer house and whether or not you agree with our list of approved house projects. We appreciate all the insight we can get. Goodbye for now, Internet.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fill your home with meaningful things

To be honest, 2011 has been kind of a tough year. We started off the year with plumbing problems (see: new water heater). Then Rob and I were both sick on and off for much of the first two months of the year. Then my 16-year-old cat Milo became ill and had to be put to sleep. We had numerous car troubles, record amounts of snow (read: back aches from shoveling), and our dishwasher broke. And then just a week or two ago, we lost a very important member of my family. I decided this blog is not the right avenue to share the details, but I do appreciate all the thoughtful notes we received. Your kindness is appreciated.

So instead I choose to focus on more positive things. I'm thinking about my home as a personal sanctuary and continuing an ongoing mission to surround myself with meaningful things. While I was in North Dakota recently, I was able to visit with many different family members. And I managed to score some very cool items for our house. Like this:

This is a table cloth from my late great-grandma Lena. She passed away a few years ago at age 101. She was an amazing woman and stayed in her home until her last year of life, living independently and taking care of herself. She crocheted this table cloth for me when I was very young, and my mom saved it for me until now. She made one for my sister too, and my sister purchased an inexpensive shadowbox to hang it on the wall (with the hand written note). I totally copied her and did the same thing. The table cloth is far too cherished to actually use. I’d rather display it.

The note reads, "Dear Kristi. I made this for you when you were only 2 and 1/2 years old. I hope you get a lot of enjoyment out of it. All my love, Great Grandma Lena."

I found the shadowbox at Michael’s. It was only $15 (they had a 40% off sale going on last weekend). We also picked up a couple smaller ones that match. Not sure exactly what we’ll be putting in them just yet, but it will be nice to have some matching display boxes for other family keepsakes.

We acquired even more meaningful house things while in ND. We drove out to the small town of New Salem to visit my grandpa Art (short for Arthur).

He lives in a nice nursing home, and I was very surprised to learn that he’s recently found a new hobby he’s passionate about: Drawing! He’s drawing like crazy these days. His first drawings were pretty good, but they’re getting even better as he goes along. Maybe I’m a little biased, but I think it’s impressive that a shaky-handed 85-year-old guy in a wheelchair randomly picked up a pencil one day and started producing images like this:

What’s even cooler is that the nursing home has been very supportive of my grandpa’s new hobby. They have framed several pieces, and display them in the lobby and craft/activity areas.

The local newspaper got wind of “Art’s Art” and started publishing a drawing each week. Isn’t that sweet?

I asked if I could have one of the drawings, and my grandpa said I could take as many as I’d like. They’re all wildlife images, and I liked many but I think this prairie dog one is my favorite.

He did a great job with the shading and coloring. I put it in a coordinating (but not matching) frame to hang near the shadowbox with Lena’s table cloth. (Lena was Art’s mom.)

Finally, we recently bought some new pottery for our fireplace mantle. These were made by my brother-in-law's father:

I quite like them. They go nicely with the rustic decor tone we have going on in the living room right now.

I don’t want to have a lot of things. In fact, I tend to lean towards minimalist design. But I do want to surround myself with symbols and reminders and personal mementos. I'm on a mission to fill my home with meaningful things. I encourage you to do the same.

someone else's words

"Happiness comes when your work and words are of benefit to yourself and others." - Buddha

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