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The cost per square foot of an ugly laundry room


So, projects take a long time to marinate around here. For example, I tore apart the basement bathroom 2 years ago, and only this spring did we admit we couldn’t put it back together again and hire a contractor.
Our laundry room has been terrible since we moved in- the previous owners put in drywall, and great cabinets, but then they just stopped- no tape, no mud, no paint. They had a solar water heater system, which I assume worked for them, but I don’t think the renters who lived here before us used it, and we haven’t hooked it up again. The panels are slowly decomposing on the roof, and the water tank has been taking up about 4 square feet of floor space in the laundry room, and even bumps out into the stairs. There is also another dead hot water heater that has been taking up space as well.
That is where the title of the post comes from. One of my colleagues this spring was house hunting in Fort Collins, and she was quoting home prices in terms of square feet, “Houses in old town are going for 300 per square foot, for an 800 square foot place. With a detached garage, can you believe it?” Well, no, I can’t believe it, because you made me do math first. Just tell me how much they want for the house! I can’t even remember the rest of the conversation, because I was still trying to carry the 1.
But it made me think- we have some stupid stuff laying around the house, old paint cans in the basement, two water heaters, a pink toilet (non-operational) in the garage. Two stereo speakers (probably also non operational) up in the loft over the work bench in the garage. How much is that space worth?

According to Zillow, our house is worth about $101 per square foot.

Those water heaters are taking up more than 400 dollars of space in my house.

I want them gone.
I was doing some reading recently on the concept of Wabi Sabi- which is kind of like shabby chic, except Japanese, so it is much cooler. The idea is that the things you surround yourself with should be imperfect and worn, and furthermore, don’t surround yourself with too many things- they could be curated, not cluttered.
As always, as a white girl interpreting a Japanese concept, I am sure there is a lot more to it than that, but one of the things that stuck out is the lack of clutter.  A house should have 10% of its space as storage. You should be able to put things away.
So, even though I spent maybe 5 minutes a day in the laundry room, I am making it nicer, getting rid of crap, adding shelving so that it can store more of the things I need and want.

I taped and mudded the joints on the drywall, then painted with some leftover paint. I knew the unprimed drywall would soak up a lot, so it would need multiple coats.  I was able to kill two birds with one stone, for the first coat I got rid of some “indian white” paint that has been taking up space in the laundry room for at least 12 years, and I was able to brighten up the room considerably.  Now a corner niche is pale green, and two walls are “aegean mist” left over from Kate’s room. It has made me so happy.

After the first coat of paint, but before the removal of the water tank.

After the first coat of paint, but before the removal of the water tank.

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This is not optimal!


Yeah, I can see why you would say that it was not optimal to have a tree right there.

Yeah, I can see why you would say that it was not optimal to have a tree right there.

Our friend Grif and I were touring the perimeter in the dark cold of the winter solstice, mostly checking to see if his theory that the previous owners had covered up a brick façade with vinyl siding was correct. Hey, it was the 70’s- people did crazy things. We went around to the south side of the house, and Grif said “Whose canoe?”
“Oh, it’s ours. We don’t take it out very much, and usually it is tipped over on its side by the side of the house.“ It had fallen over, and filled with snow and ice.
Grif was shining the flashlight on the tree growing out of the foundation. He wasn’t really listening to me. “This is not optimal.” He said. “Did you all know you have a tree growing out of your foundation?”
“Umm, yeah.”
“You really have to get this out of there.”
“Yeah, I know, we chop it down every year, but it keeps coming back from the roots.” Although, now that I think about it, did we chop it down this year? Because, it is like up to the peak of the roof, and we may not have taken it down last summer. I don’t go over to the side yard very much, and when I do, I think, yeah, I should probably take out that tree that is growing in the foundation of the house, but then I do something else instead. Like drink tea. Or read the paper. Or eat potato chips.
I don’t love the Sisyphean task of cutting it down, only to have it grow back from dormant buds. Or maybe it is more like a herculean task, where the tree is like the hydra, where you cut off the head and two more grow back. Now, how did Hercules solve that one? Flaming swords, I think, and help from his cousin. That is probably the one tool I haven’t considered.
So, how does one get a tree out of a foundation? Here’s the plan:
Step 1:chop it down before it leafs out. Plants store carbohydrates in their root systems in the fall so they have energy to grow again in spring. If I chop it back to ground level now, the energy from the underground carbs will be directed into dormant buds on what is left of the trunk. Every time I go to that side of the house, I can cut off any green leaves that sprout, and eventually, the energy stores will be depleted, and the tree will die.
Step two: with a sharp spade, dig around the tree on the sides that are accessible, and cut off as much of the root mass as I can reach.
Step 3: poison and shade I don’t like the official poisons that are sold to us as weed killer. It is partly that I am cheap. However, there are things that are not poisonous to me that may prevent the tree from coming back. Salt. Vinegar. Wood chips. MMMMMM…. Salt and vinegar chips.
Wait, focus- we need to get the non-optimal tree out of the foundation. Trying it this weekend. I’ll keep you posted.

The Big Yellow Monster


I have been a member of the National Geographic Society for many years. The primary benefit of the membership in this prestigious society is the receipt of a magazine every month. Depending on the amount of spare time, and the topics, we either devour the magazines, or they pile up on the end table. The recent issue with the story about how dogs were domesticated, fascinating, and hit all the right notes on the Boy’s interest in dogs and evolution and selective breeding.

The thing is, I can’t get rid of these magazines- we hold on to them as reference material, in case we want to look back at the maps, re-read the articles. Cutting them up for collages? Never! People do, I know, but not us.
The reality is, though, we don’t look back at old issues, or at least we haven’t, so far. So we hold on to them. I have a vivid memory of going out to the icy cold garage one February, to find an issue with Olmecs in it, to do a school report when I was in Junior High.

Why the garage? I don’t know the origin of the decision, but there were so many issues of the magazine, and so little storage space inside, that somehow it seemed logical to keep them in the garage.
Get rid of them? Never!
Ours, almost 20 years worth, have been fitting well in a lovely built-in shelf in our entrance way. That is, they were fitting in well, when they were only occupying the bottom shelf, then they encroached on the second from the bottom, displacing my cookbooks, and craft books. The front hall is terrribly lighted as well, so even when you want to look for a map, or a story on the Mongols, it is hard to do.
Long story short…I’m not getting rid of them. Never! But I am moving them to the basement, where with some clever re-arrangement, they can have their own bookshelf, with a lamp nearby.
Philosophically, what is this hold that National Geographics have on me? I can recycle or give away other magazines and books, but not these. What do you have that you can’t get rid of?

Demolition


Need some elbow grease to finish scraping off that mastic.

If  remodeling all starts with a throw pillow, or a pretty Martha Stewart towel rack,or paint colors, or choosing tile, there’s still a lot of stuff in the middle to get through, before any of the fun pretty stuff can get accomplished.

Our basement bathroom remodel started with a sluggish drain, and it is turning into a big deal. And we have kind of a deadline- I go back to school soon, and I will be teaching full time, rather than half, as I have been for the past several years. More money=nice, less time= not so nice.
The clock is ticking.
So, I ripped off the ceramic tile from the walls. At first I was dainty, sliding the scraper under the edge, prying gently, removing it with my other hand and placing it gently into the trash barrel.
Then it got fun. It was loose enough in most places that it would just pop off- whoever applied my tile so many years ago did it the same way they constructed the shower. That is, they did it  half-assedly. There was no grout, and I think it was mastic, rather than thin-set mortar. The mastic comes off the concrete foundation wall pretty easily, but not so much on the drywall. It’s pretty sloppy.

I used the gentlest tool first, and it worked really well- I read a lot of advice on the web that advocated crowbars and stuff, and implied that the best case scenario for most people was replacing the sheet rock. In our case, it popped off pretty easily.
The main tool I used was a scraper- it has removable 4 inch blades, and I found it in the tile section of the home improvement store.
If you are looking at this as a how-to, rather than just an opportunity to laugh at my hapless DIY skills, make sure you wear shoes, and gloves, and probably long pants, and definitely DEFINITELY DEFINITELY EYE PROTECTION. Seriously. There are tiny chips of ceramic flying around. Your eyes are what you see with. Protect them.

The next step was yanking out the dry wall from behind the shower wall. Rotten drywall. Pretty gross. I used a claw hammer to pull it up and break off pieces. About an hour by myself. I’m not complaining about doing it by myself- it is a 5×8 bathroom- I don’t think anyone else could get in there with a hammer without either taking longer, or someone getting hurt.

The next step is mental- the reason the drain was so sluggish was because the hole in the shower pan didn’t line up with the hole in the floor. I need to figure out how to “fur out” the wall so that the backer board can line up with the shower pan.

The book that has been super helpful is Stanley’s Complete Baths– I read it when we were up in the mountains last weekend.  My niece would say, “what are you reading?” and I would say, “shhh, I’m learning how to tile.”

So, we are working through the messy part, and soon will get through to the fun parts, expect more photos!

Holy Smokes- it worked!


Every picture should tell a story, right? This picture tells the story of the nasty stuff in my shower drain.

Our basement shower has been draining sloooowly for a long time, and when we had the plumber out to look at it, Dave was his name, wearing his cute little booties to protect our rugs, he just shook his head and said there was nothing he could do. Seriously?
We had already tried to snake it, but the problem was, the shower pan drain didn’t overlap with the floor drain- it was a little 3 dimensional Venn Diagram- this side was the water that came down in the shower, and this was the water that pooled up on the floor, and there in the middle, was the water that went down the drain. Gross.

We needed to do something, so I thought about remodeling. For a while. I set up a board on Pinterest, even.
After putting it off most of the summer, I tore out the shower pan last week, and tried the snake again. Not effective. Then I read somewhere that using a wet-dry vacuum would work.
Really? Okay.
It does work- I borrowed my friend Molly’s, and plugged it in, wrapped a rag around the end of the hose and turned it on.
At first, I wondered how you would be able to tell if it was working, then I felt little jerks on the hose, and looked inside the canister. Globs. Nasty globs of, let’s admit it, mostly my hair. And a piece of plastic that the installers had used to bridge the gap between the drain holes.
I poured an exploratory gallon or 2 of water down the drain, and it made contented gurgling sounds. Yea!
Next step, doing something about the decomposing wallboard behind the shower wall. Seriously? Who installed this thing?

Fracking junipers*


I asked the tree trimmers who had worked for us before to come do an estimate of pruning the big old tree in back, the big old (slightly younger) tree in front, and ripping out the juniper bushes entirely. As I remember, when they came out last time, they pruned both ashes and the old apple, and removed an upright juniper, and the whole thing cost about $55o.

Umm… this estimate is higher. By a lot
$1600 for the ash in back, $600 for the ash in front. $450 to take out the junipers.
Seriously. $450 for the junipers?
I plan to get another estimate for the big trees, because this seems high. They did come highly recommended, and I was happy with the work they did before, and I am not going to climb up in my 50 year old ash tree and chop things up. But still. Cadillac prices.
I came to a conclusion in the shower, where I do my best thinking, and decided that for 450 I can rip out my own junipers.

Day 1  I started Saturday, tentatively at first, sitting in front with loppers, looking for the trunk, hoping I could just get in there and saw it down. Then I stood up and went around behind the northern-most bush, and saw that where the kids had tried to chop out a playhouse, it was pretty easy to access bigger branches. Lop lop lop, throw into a pile. After a while, I broke out the pruning saw, to get the branches that were too big to get with the lopper.
I discovered 3 wasp nests, unoccupied, and a bird nest, also unoccupied.

Little bird nest.

On the first afternoon, I got most of two shrubs cut up, waiting for the main trunk to be cut as close to the ground as possible. The temperature was about 75 degrees, not too bad for working outside, but my arms got scratched up, and I got dust and stuff in my eyes, even with safety glasses, and there were little pieces of prickly stuff everywhere. I kept thinking, “$450… $450”

DH suggested buying a chain saw when I was halfway into it. I may have growled at him.

.

Day 2 had record breaking temperatures. High temperatures, in case you are wondering. I loaded the pick-up, then discovered the waste yard was closed on Mondays. D’oh. Then I crawled into the house, and waited for it to cool off, investing the time in looking at wholesale bulb catalogs and drawing plans for the new bed. I also took a nap.

Day 3, the weather was cooler, but not by much. I drove the pick-up to the city waste yard, dumped the trimmings, then reloaded twice. The third time I stopped for iced coffee and a brownie, then stocked up on epsom salts.

Day 4: We sawed up the last of the shrubs, loaded up the truck, this time with help from DH, who didn’t have to go into work until late.

We also rented a small electric chainsaw. The stumps are just too big for the pruning saw. It cost about $40, and made the stumps go much more quickly.

Thank you Kate, for taking pictures…maybe we’ll have a conversation sometime about flattering angles.

I’m glad we rented, because safety equipment came with it. If we had bought a saw, I know we would have half-assed the safety part. Sure, I would have worn safety goggles, but the kit from the rental place had chaps, and goggles, and a hard hat with hearing protection.

I’m coming after you, stumpy!

At the end of day 4, the only thing left is clean up- the remaining stumps and branches, and sweeping.  The next time I get mulch, a thick layer will go onto this area, and when the weather cools in fall, I’ll transplant things into it.

My thought throughout this project was “We’re saving $450” every time I cussed, and complained, and found little tiny prickly juniper needles in my bra (in my bra!) I would think about the money I was saving. What is a project you could have hired out, but didn’t, or you did it yourself, but would never do it again? What would you do with $450?

*my original working title for this post was a different F word, which expressed how I was feeling toward the bushes. The boy saw it when I was working on it, and attempted to cover my eyes, to protect me. He thought someone bad on the internet had written that word, and he wanted to protect me, bless his heart.

Tree Killer


There are 2 types of people, tree planters, and tree murderers. No. Not really. Sometimes people who plant trees also kill them. Me, for example.
I have killed trees through benign neglect, bad cultural practices, and laisse faire policies. And occasionally, I have hired hit men to practice premeditated tree murder. (We’ve been watching a lot of Monk lately- I think it’s rubbing off.)

It’s like Justin Beiber’s bangs, in shrub form…

We have juniper bushes that were probably planted when the house was built, almost 50 years ago.They are hideous and over-mature- we have trimmed them in past years, but not the past couple of years. They half block the windows, making the front bedroom cavelike all year round. They have to go.
What has been holding me back?

  • Possible insulation value
  • Prickliness
  • Snake habitat

Does anyone know how to figure out the R value of 50 year-old juniper bushes? Me neither. Actually, there are places on the web where you can figure it out, but as far as I have been able to determine, the most value comes from bushes stopping the wind in winter. These uglies are on the east side of the house, and winter wind hits us from the north. I am not convinced they make much difference in gas bills in the winter. They do make a comfort difference in summer, I suspect, since, as I said, they make the front bedroom cave-like.
Prickliness- I don’t want to take these out myself. They poke, and make my skin rashy, and whaa whaa whaa. Plus they smell like cat pee. That is why I am hiring hit men to do the job- tree guys to get the junipers as well as clean out some dead wood on the ash trees. Since it is family policy to spend as little money as possible on anything, it has taken me a while to come around to this decision (and I am not bad mouthing DH here- the crazy penny-pinching mostly comes from me…unless we’re talking about lattes…)
Snake habitat- animal habitat in general, actually. Dense, prickly bushes make great protective homes for wildlife, not just the cute cuddly birds and butterflies that people want to attract, but also the garter snakes and rodents who are part of the environment but who don’t get the kind of  press that butterflies do. By taking out shrubs that are close to 7 feet tall and 4 feet wide, I am affecting beings other than myself.
Sigh.
I’m doing it anyway. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Checked off to do list: back window


Once you cut a groove into it, the acrylic becomes pretty easy to snap. The directions say use your thumbs, but it was easier on my hands to bite off chunks with my Vise-grips.

Armed with my new dollar store tape measure, I decided to tackle a project that had been marinating for a long time. A few years ago during a wind storm, the door that leads from the garage to the back yard slammed shut and the glass broke.  I cleaned up the broken glass pretty much immediately- I had little kids crawling around, after all (ooh, the fact that I say they were crawling around makes it seem like this window has been broken for more than a “few” years…) So, cleaned up the glass, scraped out the putty, bought a sheet of acrylic to replace the glass, and a handy dandy little tool for cutting the acrylic and then…waited. Procrastinated. Can’t explain why- once the glass was cleaned up it didn’t seem urgent anymore, and I thought it would take a long time.

Well, it didn’t. Not really.

We had a beautiful sunny afternoon when I didn’t really have anything else to do, so I got out the tape measure and measured. Once.

You can probably see where this is going.

I laid out the acrylic, measured out my lines, and clamped a metal straight-edge down. The special acrylic cutting tool calls for cutting along the line until the groove is 1/16th on an inch deep. The sound drove the neighbor’s dog crazy- this high pitched squeal that had to be repeated many many times. There might be an easier way to cut plastic- I honestly didn’t do much research about it.

Once I got it scored and snapped, I took it over the the window opening, and discovered it was 1/2 inch too big.

It was a nice sunny day, though. DH and the kids were on a bike ride, and I had no where to be, really, other than enjoying the sunshine in my backyard, so, I measured again, marked it clamped it and cut it.  This time it was just right. I popped it into the frame, popped it out, put in some caulk and nailed the trim back on.

Look, now the shiny window reflects the mess in the yard... I'll get right on that.

One project down…

The Lost Tape Measure


In my quest to become handy, I have made a list of projects, many that have been simmering for a while, and I have thought about first steps.For several, the first step would be: “measure the opening.”
Yeah. About that.
I do have a battery operated, automatically retractable measuring tape. Which I have misplaced. I think it is in the garage?
I have another 25′ one, my favorite, which I have accused the Boy of losing.
The Boy likes to measure stuff- when he was littler, we would read animal encyclopedias together, and it was worlds different from reading with the Girl. With her, we would snuggle with a story, and predict what might happen, and find the rhyming words, and talk about the characters. With the Boy, we would read a little fact box next to a picture of say, a Siberian tiger. Then he would hop off my lap, hand me one end of the measuring tape and walk backward until he got to however many feet. The Siberian tiger sticks in my memory, because it was too big for the living room. This isn’t a technique they taught me in teacher school, the kid just came up with it on his own.

Obviously too big for the living room. Photo from Tiger-pictures.net

That year at Christmas, he asked for a 100′ measuring tape. I asked him what he would measure with it, and he answered, “mostly blue whales.”
Oh. I see.
We didn’t get him one, and I wish we had, because then maybe mine wouldn’t be in a snowbank, or in the bottom of a toybox, or who knows where. We looked in all the usual places.
So, the last time I was at the dollar store, I went ahead and bought a new measuring tape, so that I can measure stuff so that I can work on the projects on my list.
And then wouldn’t you know it, when I opened up the junk drawer in the kitchen, there was my favorite measuring tape. Put away. It’s not really where it goes, but it was put away…

The Bathroom Remodel?


I vividly  remember reading this book when I was a kid about a man who buys new shoe strings, then sees how shabby his shoes look in comparison. So, he gets new shoes. Then his suit looks terrible. So he buys new clothes, and gets into his shabby car to drive home, and winds up buying a new car, and a new house. Maybe a new wife- I don’t remember the ending. Anyway, he changes his whole life because of one tiny thing.

That is what I am afraid of with our basement bathroom.

It is terrible.

I took the curtains down to wash, and realized the window frames are corroding there in the wall. In scrubbing the mold off the walls, I have scrubbed the paint off, but repainting means making a decision about the pink tiles that are popping off the walls, and the floor tile that is peeling up. And the shower stall. And the basin- actually, the basin isn’t so bad.

Last week, the drain got clogged, and water started leaking out of We started showering upstairs, where the pressure is terrible.

 

 

The curtains were the “new shoe strings” in this little parable, but beyond new shoe strings, the bathroom really does need work… a lot of work.

People with bathroom remodel experience- what’s next? How much can I do myself? What resources should I go to? Does anyone else remember that book, or what it is called?

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