Monday, April 30, 2007

House dangers

Yes, I did get injured over the weekend. (actually, thinking back, I got injured twice over the weekend) For any rehabber, you know there are a neverending supply of dangers when working around the house- nail guns gone mad, falls from ladders, stripper hitting skin, hammer thumb bashing, splinters, foreign item falling in eye, toxic fumes -the list is clearly neverending. To prevent this, of course, we use a number of cautions. Gloves, a clean work environment, safety glasses, and just a careful attention to safety could prevent these dangers.

So, you might wonder, what dangerous activity was I involved in? For safety sake, I sported a hat, sunglasses, gloves, and my workshoes. But, none of these protections could help me.

I slipped down our outside front stairs en route to fertilizing the rose bush. The result, of course, was a sprained ankle. No fears of any embarrasment, as only the neighbors saw me tumble down the stairs. (calling out several times "are you okay, are you okay"?)

Ever the determined fertilizer, I did eventually pick myself up, hobbled over to the rose bush, and fertilized. I also worked on our fence a bit. But, I did earn a golf ball sized bump and a big black and blue mark. (which I think is getting better.) Since I can hobble on it, I think it is pretty minor. Today I'm trying my darndest not to walk on it and rest. I've been looking a little goofy.

Oh, and the second "injury" was a thumb incident while trying to break up forsythia branches.


A different kind of demo

This weekend we started a whole other type of demo. Doesn't our yard look a little bare?

We ended up cutting all the forsythia to the ground. Before I start getting e-mails or comments about how on earth I could destroy a plant-there should be no worries. The forsythia should grow back. (and, I think started right away overnight). We should have done this years ago.

The demo was all in pursuit of a goal to restore our front fence. Right after we bought the house, we started with fence repairs. My father-in-law did a bunch of concrete patch work and we painted the concrete. It made a world of difference. Last year we did a quick paint job (needed to be repainted). We never got around though to the side facing the yard. With the forsythia, it was just too difficult to paint without painting half the plant. We also never sanded off the rust on the spokes, or painted them.

Hence, the cutting the forsythia to the ground. The powers that be (a.k.a. various garden sites) say that forsythia should be cut to the ground right after the blooming happens in the spring. Optimally, for pruning, you would cut 1/3 or the branches back to the ground every spring. Apparently, the yellow spring blooms only bloom on old branches, which is why you would do this. Because the forsythia just finished blooming, now is the time to do fence work. If not for that fact, we'd probably do this near the end of the summer. (At this time of the year I feel more like planting than demoing)

Both Glenn and I worked on using an angle grinder to sand all the spokes in the fence. (this takes a fair amount of time, FYI) Here's sort of how it looks before using the angle grinder:

And, after a bit of angle grinding:

We weren't able to finish, but I hope to get some sanding done during the week). Anyway, going forward we need to (1) finish angle grinding all the spokes (2) prime and paint the spokes black (3) power wash the fence (4) do some concrete patchwork on the fence (5) paint the fence. We are sort of in a rush against time-trying to get work done before the forsythia takes over again.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Monk Parakeets

I've written about how I spotted some lime green birds in our back yard one day. I now think I found the nest! (just a reminder, I'm NOT a bird person and I've actively tried to get rid of a nest on our back porch). Anyway, the other day I was walking to the el. I heard the familiar (to me) gawk of the monk parakeet and looked up. What did I see? A nest! Pretty exciting. I did not see a monk parakeet flying to or from the nest, just heard the unusual gawk.

No worries, I don't plan on doing anything with this nest. I would post a photo, but Glenn worried that perhaps anti-monk parakeet people out there might threaten the nest. Yesterday, both of us walked over to the nest and watched. It's nice to know where they came from.


Monday, April 23, 2007

The Call of Spring

Does spring offer any stress for any other house renovators? Once warm weather comes calling, I immediately have a huge list of to-dos that I want to do right away. Sort of like waking a sleeping bear... (we spend the winter on sort of house rehab hiatus)

April, May and some of June are THE best times for many types of work, before it gets too hot. For us, we have (1) spring planting/clean-up/maintenance begging for our attention (and the area we are most excited for)(2) painting outside including our front fence, garage, back porch (3) concrete repairs of the front fence and front step (4) sandblasting radiators, priming and painting (5) using the heat gun inside with open windows including a buffet in our unit and some paint on the stairs (6) staining our stairs (7) random painting inside. Of course, not all of this will get down in the next few weeks but I want to do it all right now.

It's just nice doing fume work when you can get some air circulation!

Of course, there's also all the other competing activities of just enjoying the great weather outside.


Sunday, April 22, 2007


In connection with getting the rental ready to rent, we've also reconnected with our front hallway. Strangely enough, this is one of the first projects we started. We ended up stopping it when other projects had greater importance. (ie. getting working bathrooms and kitchens, creating a living space before we moved in, etc.)

Sort of funny, because the staircase is what drew us into the house in the firstplace. Sure, it was pulling away from the wall, was surrounded by tons of filth, many coats of paint, crumbling old tiles, but we knew that we could bring it back to life.

When we first got the house, we hired carpenters to straighten out our staircase. Photos failed to capture the effect, but they were crooked. We had to take out the plaster under the staircase (and remove molding) in order to do this. Then, the carpenters came up, and fixed the stairs. When the bannister was removed, it made it much easier to sand the treads and risers so we did that.

We spent hours upon hours stripping, sanding, etc. (I remember one day working 12 hours just on the stairs). At some point, I had enough, so went on to work on other areas of the house.

Then, at some point, we removed the flooring down to the subfloor, and installed tile. (I'm the tiler). We ended up hiring someone to put in drywall where the plaster was missing and later someone to paint the front hall. (boy, what a difference!)

The hallway was really looking snazzy (in our opinion) at that point so we were happy to leave the front hall to move onto the myriad of other projects becking at our feet. I think at that point, our primary mission was to get our first tenants in). Since the painting, back in 2005, we've done nothing in the hallway. (I think I patched some holes in walls that furniture/appliance delivery people made-but nothing significant). With tenants, working on the front hall is just too challenging. Then, they moved out, and we did the big flooring/garage/radiator stripping projects.

But, finally, we are getting back to our pet project. Last weekend we installed the missing door molding in front of the rental, and leading to the basement. We also installed some base molding under the stairs that was hiding out for some time but was refound over last summer. Because the stairs had to be raised (I assume) there's now a big gap on one end of the molding between the base molding and the stairs. We'll have to do something about that. Some other molding is just plain missing, so we'll need to figure something out with that. We also have some drywall repairs in the front hall and a bunch of other little things for the hall to be "done."

And, of course, finally, there are our beloved stairs which are on the short list of our to-dos. I got some estimates for finishing them. (over $2000!) But, this close to being done, it seemed like a cop out to just hire it out. Would be more satisfying to a the end of the day to say that we did them.

We've come a long way, but plenty to be done!


Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Devil is in the Details

We've been having a relative leisurely return back to the grindstone and are busy with all those random details in the rental before renting. These items fell into a few categories (1) new problems post-tenants(ie. repairing holes from the flooring project and the radiator leaking incident) (2) Post-renting issues (ie. Painting, cleaning) or (3) catching up on our to do list.

Part of the issue is the myriad of "details" associated with an older home. Before renting the unit, we wanted to get everything up to snuff but ran out of time. We hired someone to do a lot of the painting but ran out of time with the prep-including filling in nail holes. (nobody seemed to ever do that before around here. Once woodwork changes from dark brown to white, the holes are a lot easier to spot!) Let me tell you there are a LOT of holes to be filled, sanded, primed and painted.

One of the related projects was filling in random gaps that appeared during the project or were there the whole time. In some areas, we removed plaster and replaced it with drywall, resulting in large gaps. One example is a gap between the window molding and the wall in one of the bedrooms.

It was a significant gap too big for just caulk alone. We ended up nailing in some wood scraps, caulking, and we will paint. It's in a bit of a hidden area, so disquising it will probably be sufficient.

We also have been caulking up a storm. There were numerous areas of the picture molding that had gaps.

Once it was painted, the gaps stood out like a sore thumb. (As an aside, I think caulk has to be one of, if not the greatest home improvement inventions!)

Hopefully we'll be able to paint the middle bedroom ceiling this weekend and actively market the apartment. Glenn put the finishing touches on the bathroom ceiling. For a review, while doing our flooring project on the second floor, a workman stepped through the ceiling, resulting in this:

But Glenn fixed it, and it now looks great!

(can you believe someone wanted us to pay $1000 for this?!?)

Sort of an irritating thing that transpired was random paint cracks. For really bad cracks I went back to scraping, taping, compound, etc. I don't think I'll ever put away the compound.

Outside of the house stuff, I've been busy with the chicago chapter of the Red Cross' Heroes Breakfast. It's the chapter's largest fundraisers and a chance to honor extraordinary acts done by local individuals. This year was the second year I was on the planning committee. I'm glad I could have been a part of it.


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Lochinvar Boilers

Our "new" boiler has caused us a lot more problems than our elderly old boiler.

The facts about our boiler:
Installed December 2005. At the same time, we installed a second boiler for the rental unit.

Fall of 2006 wouldn't work- service call indicated that it needed to be cleaned. The techician spent a couple hours going over the boiler to see what might be causing it to get so dirty in a relatively short time of use.

April 2007, must be cleaned again.-originally the installer wanted to charge $300 to do the cleaning and do a thorough analysis on why our boiler kept on overheating.

Technician called Lochinvar who says that their boilers must be cleaned twice a year if in a laundry room. (I specifically asked this in Fall 2006 of our technician) We had to get our boiler cleaned twice in a single season.

We used to have a Weil-McLain. From 2003-2005 never cleaned, no problems. As a preventive measure we got it replaced. In less than the time that we had experience with the Weil-McLain, we have had 2 additional service calls. I'm really regretting that we changed the boiler at all.

After the boiler was installed (1) service calls went up and (2) our heating costs stayed the same.