Category Archives: House maintenance

Digging Trenches

I spent this beautiful 55-degree day outside with just a light jacket. It was so refreshing to stay outside without scurrying back to shelter!

But I had a mission. This was the first thaw we’ve had since around Christmas, so the snow had built up pretty high. In fact, with the last couple snows, we had run out of room to pile it up along the driveway, especially at the foot of the driveway where the plows only made things worse. The entrance to the driveway had gotten progressively more narrow and took a precise turn to get in just right without getting stuck. Plus, the most recent snows hit when it was bitterly cold, so we had done the bare minimum clearing, which had created a nice, icy layer underneath.

So today, I set out to widen the entrance to the driveway. When I got home from my mid-day errands, my neighbor was out doing exactly that. He brought over one of his roof shingle shovels – with a spiked end – that proved very effective at chopping through the ice.

I spent a solid two hours on the end of the driveway alone. The snowpack was at least three feet tall, so I climbed up and hacked at it. Living near the top of a hill, the street often serves as a bit of a waterfall on rainy days and thaw days, so a trickle was already beginning to flow. Even so, since my neighbor – just a tiny bit higher up the hill, whose peak is the house on his other side – had already made good progress, I had a lake of dirty, cold water forming at the end of my driveway where it ran into the still-strong snowpack. So the hacking took on a more strategic approach. I felt like I was part of the Army Corps of Engineers, strategically opening up trenches every time water started pooling somewhere.

With the warm weather, neighbors were out walking their dogs and getting groceries. I chatted with a couple of them as they strolled by, and as I was just about ready to call it good-enough and go back inside, one of those neighbors reappeared in his pickup truck, equipped with a plow blade. He waved me out of the way and shoved what was left of the snow pack back, widening my path even more. I smiled and thanked him with a neighborly wave. As soon as he left, water started pooling again, so my neighbor and I quickly reopened a main trench and were rewarded with a babbling brook.

I’m sure my arms and back will be sore tomorrow, but it was a great day.

One down, 10ish to go!

I shrink wrapped my first window this afternoon before realizing I needed to use the fleeting daylight to clean out the last of my planters.

I tackled the living room window, since a stiff breeze has been weasling its way into my living room. I planned not to spend too much time striving for the wrinkle-free perfection, since it’s only a temporary solution until early January, but it’s hard to do a half-assed job on something like this.

I’ve learned over the years that it’s not worth the effort to lay everything out on the floor and measure perfectly. (Plus, Collette tended to attack my perfectly-measured sheets, occasionally puncturing them with her over-zealous claws.) Rather, I put the double-sided tape all around, peel back the sticky side on the top border, and gently place it until I get it about right. Then, I make the major cut, separating the designated piece from the giant sheet. I leave plenty to work with, though. It’s not worth the headache to try to line it up just right with no wiggle room, especially since so many of my windows are taller than I am and thus my perspective gets thrown off.

Next, I press gently all the way around – saving the bottom for last – until it’s pretty well distributed and even. Before I start shrink wrapping, I punch my holes for the blinds (which I spent AN HOUR scrubbing this afternoon. They were gross!), so we can adjust the height and open/close them.

Then, the shrinky-dink part begins. I wield my hair dryer with the same gusto I would a drill, starting in an upper corner and, on high heat, constantly moving from side to side, targeting the visible wrinkles. I never rest too long – rumor has it that doing so can actually melt or burn the plastic, not that I would know that from experience.

Finally, with things pretty well wrapped – I could bounce a quarter off my window film! – and no visible wrinkles, I try to carefully trim off the excess. This part can be the downfall of the entire endeavor, as today. The scissors I was using weren’t nearly sharp enough, so they struggled to cleanly cut the plastic. In one place, I accidentally tore my newly-perfected plastic, leaving a gouge that needed immediate repair. It’s such a delicate balance – how much do I try to trim without risking ruining my work?

The real test was when Don got home and couldn’t tell the window had been wrapped, except for the blind adjuster thing (wand? stick?) that sticks out at a slightly cock-eyed angle.

Victory!

Now lather, rinse and repeat several more times. If I do one a weekend, I’ll be done by Valentine’s Day, so I’d better step it up.

Basement Gaps

Collette LOVES the gaps in my basement walls. I’m always afraid she’s going to get trapped some day! I’ve sealed up some of the worst offenders, but every now and then, when coming downstairs, I’ll suddenly see eyes peering at me from the ceiling.

My Nose is Cold

I’m sitting on my couch by the oldest window. My nose is cold. So are my toes. There’s quite a breeze.

I can’t wait to get rid of this window.

However, the question is, how much insulation should I do for the windows that will be replaced in 6-8 weeks? I’ll definitely put in the storm windows. They’re already lined up in the garage, ready to go the next time I’m home during daylight hours (Saturday).

But should I bother with the shrink wrap for the five windows in question?

Given how cold my nose is -and it’s a relatively balmy 38 degrees compared to a month from now, with a brisk wind – I think it’s worth the $15 and the time.

Painting

It’s been a busy few weeks!

I’ve been painting a ton. It started with the paint around the back door. But then, since I had the brushes, tarp and other fun tools out, I took on other painting projects.

Then, flipping through the pile of paint cans in the garage I tackled other projects. I also discovered that freeze/thaw cycles are not kind to paint. The previous owner had left a dozen or so paint cans in the garage, all labeled with the room they coated. Great, I thought when I found then can labeled, “Back hall.” By its weight, it felt about a quarter full – more than enough to touch up around the new back door where we had removed the trim. I patched everything, sanded it down, changed into painting clothes, set up my tarp and ladder, pried off the lid – and discovered jell-o. The paint had congealed into a layer of gelatinous goo, topped by clear liquid. Interesting stuff.

Luckily, since the Ace Hardware label was still intact with the color name and pigment ratios, I took the can over to my local store. First, I asked them if they could shake it up and see if it was salvageable. It wasn’t. Next, I asked for a quart, assuming I have enough unused paint hanging around the house, and wondering how many of the other cans were worthless. However, in the five years since the paint had been originally mixed, they had discontinued selling the base in quart-sized containers, so I was stuck with a gallon if I wanted the color. That was fine until I discovered that my gallon of premium paint was a whopping $43! Eegads! I’ve never paid more than $22 or $23 for a gallon of paint, and often buy it when it’s on sale. The cashier saw the look of shock on my face and threw in a couple extra stir sticks, but sheesh. Had I know, I would have found a “close enough” color or just resolved to repaint the entire back hallway, complete with 16 foot ceilings where the basement opens up to the rest of the house. Instead, since it’s a nice neutral color, I’ll be repainting some other room – maybe the dining room or office? Either way, since I had plenty, I ended up painting two nice coats around the door and also freshening a lot of the space.

Moving along, I finally (after two years!) painted the second coat in the downstairs bathroom, bringing out the true color I had imagined – a subtle lilac that contrasts nicely against bright white trim and the light green kitchen. I also applied a second coat to the trim and touched up a couple places that had chipped on the kitchen trim.

Next, I did a bit of concrete patching on the front steps before applying a fresh coat of paint. The front steps were tough only because of our continuing brown bug problem. After washing off all the bug carcasses before I started, they kept landing in the wet paint! I kept having to retouch the slightly tacky paint, trying to remove the bodies before they dried, like mosquitoes in amber. There are a couple that I didn’t manage to extract, but they’ll remain entombed as a memorial to their brothers – I’ve killed hundreds this summer.

Meanwhile, our driveway project taught us some valuable lessons – namely, that asphalt is nasty stuff that does NOT come off of concrete or aluminum side. We had been careful applying it, but some had inevitably splattered in the process. So I repainted the foundation facing the driveway (and think I’ll do the rest of the house soon, just to keep it even). However, despite trying two different products suggested by the Home Depot and Ace experts, we cannot figure out how to get the splatters of (black) tar off the (white) aluminum siding without also removing the coating (is it paint?). Especially since I redid the foundation, it looks especially bad. One product yellowed the siding, the other removed the paint-like coating, exposing bare metal. I think for now, our best bet is going to be touching up with white metal paint?

In the midst of asphalt cleanup, I also decided it was high time to repaint our white gate that closes across the driveway. It had a rough winter and a couple bare patches. Luckily, there was another paint can in the garage labeled “gate.” I opened it up and discovered more goo! Sigh. Then I opened an indoor/outdoor paint in another shade of white and discovered pure jelly. My last option – without buying more paint – was to use the same white paint I’ve used for the bathroom and kitchen trim. It’s labeled for interior, so I only did half the gate for now. I’ll let it get through a couple rain storms (it’s rained all day) to see how it holds up before doing the other half. Fence painting sucks – the slats take forever to coat evenly.

I think that’s all the painting for now. I rather enjoy it for the first couple hours, but it gets tedious – and leaves me with a clawed right hand for a day or so afterwards. But it’s one of the easiest and most cost-effective improvements – and you see the results right away.

More windows

One week into summer (going by the Memorial Day standard), I’ve got nearly all of my windows at least quasi-operational. Yesterday, Don helped me with the living room window which, while pretty (its wood is stained to exactly match the rest of the living room), is a trainwreck as far as operation is concerned. The sashes are so old that it doesn’t reliably stay up without the aid of a stick – a concern due to the cat.* This is also one of the worst as far as wind and cold leakage, compounded by its location directly behind the couch. Opening it in the summer requires a delicate ballet of sliding the storm window up to balance on top of the new screen – all while holding the window itself up so it doesn’t come crashing down. Plus, to reach it, I have to balance on the back of the couch. Having a second set of hands is immensely helpful.

The only windows still not operational are the upstairs bathroom which is still sealed shut (and also sashcordless), one of the paired back hall windows (which has a horribly rusted and broken screen), and the larger of the office windows (which has no fitting screen). Oh, and there’s one more in the back hall that I can’t reach, since it’s perched above the stairs, so it’s a moot point anyway.

I plan to scrape the last of the removable caulk from the upstairs bathroom, though I hope to soon have the money to completely replace the whole bathroom. The way the window’s frame is bisected by the wall with the shower plumbing, replacing that window requires a ton more work – one that a new bathroom can fix.

Overall, by my count, I have four new windows in the house (two each in my bedroom and the kitchen), six old ones in the main living area, two in the basement, and a whopping eleven geriatrics on the porch. The living room window is first on the list for replacement, and I’ll also replace the two cracked window panes on the porch. From there, it’s up to budget.

*Right after I moved in two years ago, the cat was hanging out in one of the porch windows that we knew was sashless but “seemed to stay in place just fine,” in the words of my ex. One morning, we heard the most blood-curdling yowls. The window had fallen and trapped Collette. In her haste to escape, Collette’s back paw had gotten stuck in the window, and she was hanging, dangling, flaying her other three paws against the wall, trying to get traction. Once we freed her, she slinked off to drip blood all over the new carpet and didn’t walk normally for a couple weeks. To this day, she occasionally stops and shakes out the affected paw – I think it was likely a broken toe. Since then, if a window lacks operational sashes, it either remains shut or is firmly propped into place.

Home Depot Employees = Talent?

Wow.

Home Depot employees Walk Like Electricians. Via Make the Logo Bigger, a marketing blog I frequent.

And for the record, Great Stuff really is great, especially for a drafty old house!

Doors ordered!

After comparison shopping, Home Depot matched – and beat – the best price I had found, so my doors are on order. I should have them in 10-14 days, so I’m just a couple weeks from a shiny new door! And it will indeed be shiny steel. I found I could order a fiberglass door in my super-special size, but it would have been more than double the cost. I’ll spend that money elsewhere, I’m sure.

Is cleaning women’s work?

No matter the size of my home, I’ve always been the cleaner. Living alone, if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. I try to keep things pretty tidy and straighten up periodically, trying to actually clean weekly. I’ve found with the bigger house, though, comes a lot more cleaning! Back in my apartment days, 10 minutes on a Saturday morning was enough to clean the bathroom, and another 10 allowed for a quick Swiffering of the entire apartment. But now, I have to choose – upstairs bathroom or downstairs? Do I really need to do both every weekend? And vacuuming – really, how often do I have to do it? Can I forgo pulling out the couch? After all, I’ll just have to start over again in a week or two, anyway.

As a result, I’ve fallen into laziness. No bones about it, there’s been some sheer, unadulterated sloth lately. Part of it is the futility of winter. I can’t remember the last time I mopped the tile in the back hallway, since the nearly-constant snow, slush and muck have kept it nice and filthy, with gray splotches and splatters galore. Since the windows have been closed since early October, there have been no cleansing breezes to dislodge the ceiling cobwebs, and the air in general is stale with a hint of Febreeze.

But really, whose problem is it? Growing up, my mom spent much of her free time cleaning the house, delegating some of the chores to my sister and me. When company was coming, though, Dad would take the reins and do a good chunk of the vacuuming and dusting.

I wonder, if I were to live with a guy who was willing to clean, would I let him? How committed am I to my role as cleaner? And is it because I’m a girl or because I’m the de facto housekeeper?

Lift me to the Lights!

The nine foot ceilings on the main floor of my house were listed as a feature when I first saw the listing. I agreed they were nice, making the rooms feel bigger and more spacious.

But since moving in, the nine foot ceilings have proved a bit challenging. For example, some genius decided that the perfect place for the ground floor smoke detector is about six feet from the stove. When it goes off, I can’t quite reach the detector to stop the insane beeping, even standing on a chair. I’ve learned that a mop handle does the trick and stops the alarm and also the cat’s harmonious cries.

The high ceilings are even more of a hurdle when combined with stairs – especially the uneven, concrete stairs leading to my basement. And of course, directly above this mess, is one of the most-used light fixtures in my house. Since this fixture lights up the back hallway, foyer, closets and steps to the basement, it gets flipped on and off numerous times a day, making a CFL bulb not practical, since those take a solid 40-60 seconds to warm up and provide full light.

Last night, I got home and discovered the bulb had burned out. It’s always a bit precarious climbing up to it, since the best way is to set the stepladder at the top of the curving stairs and lean over the abyss while stretching with all your might to the fixture. I got everything set up and climbed up, but found my still-not-quite-right ankle couldn’t handle the requisite tippy toes. I reluctantly turned the task over to Don.

Maybe there should be a height requirement for home ownership.