Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"I can't find anything!"

I started our basement renovation last year and had every intention of finishing by last Christmas – does this sound like a recurring theme? I even had a construction schedule printed from my computer (that slipped every week – but at least I knew how far behind I was falling.). Half the basement is for the kids and their games. The other (less than) half would be for crafting and Dawn’s projects and work area.
During construction, I needed somewhere to keep the basement clutter – much of which is possessions not yet unpacked from our move into the house 5 years ago. All of this stuff needed to be relocated so I could work – the result, a mountain of plastic bins and boxes. Storing things you don’t need is one thing – for Dawn not to be able to work because much of her supplies are packed, who knows where, is an entirely different matter.
Dawn, giving up any hope phase 2 (her work area) will be started any time soon exclaims, “I can’t find anything!” and decides we are going to unpack everything – this weekend. Dawn has always been spontaneous. Me, I like to plan - she has a thought and needs to act, immediately. No problem, but I needed to make a point to tell her the bathroom window molding will not be finished this weekend - once again, starting another project before finishing the last. She agreed, taking full responsibility – this time. (I’ll consider this documented proof.)
Naturally, I need to do the heavy lifting and moving. She said she’ll unpack everything – which doesn’t really put me at ease – actually, I would have preferred to unpack. Why? Well, when we moved out of our first home, Dawn was 6 months pregnant with Sophia. In order to help out, I did a lot of the packing – see where I’m going with this? My method of packing differs from Dawn’s – although mine makes sense to me while I’m packing. I’ll try to optimize space in a box – Dawn will keep categories separate. Yesterday, one of my calculators that I have not seen in……5 years - was on the kitchen counter. Dawn said she found it in a box marked “Kitchen” that was full of Tupperware! OK, so the calculator was probably in the kitchen when I was packing and there was probably room in the box. I guess I figured everything would be unpacked after we moved into the new house – not still in boxes after 5 years! I wonder what else she’ll find that I haven’t seen in 5 years that I’ve needed so badly.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where's the molding?

I had every intention of finishing the molding around the new bathroom window before starting the next project – really. It’s been 3 weeks and I still only have masking tape around the perimeter of the window where the molding SHOULD be by now! The masking tape will keep the insulation fibers from settling on every horizontal surface in our bathroom – smart, right? Something must have told me that the molding installation would be delayed – probably my track record. I have more unfinished projects than I care to admit. But, I cannot take all the blame- I’ve got plenty of help. I hate to keep bringing her up, but let’s face it – my wife keeps my schedule. When I announce which project I will try to tackle on the upcoming weekend – Dawn will clue me into the itinerary of our busy little offspring.

Three of them play soccer – chickie4 just started at 4 years old. chickie2 plays lacrosse and basketball during the off season and chickie3 is a soccer purist. Chickie1 should be lead in a NY City Ballet performance at Lincoln Center with all the money we’ve spent between classes, outfits, costumes, (I can’t believe how much stockings cost!) makeup and let’s not forget how much fuel and time is spent running her back and forth from the dance studio.

Most Saturdays we need to split up. I’ll take one or two and Dawn will take the others. That leaves me only Sunday – unless of course there’s a family function or other distraction requiring our attendance or Dawn may have something else in mind – such as….
“I can’t find anything!”

Sunday, October 12, 2008


When I first started my home improvement life as a homeowner, I had very few tools. My first purchase was a $30 circular saw and you can do just about anything with a circular saw - except finish work. This was not a problem because I have not yet gotten into any type of finish carpentry. I had built a playground swing set attached to an elevated covered "fort" and a picnic table with benches with that saw. When it came time to start tackling some finish carpentry around the house I had to make a decision - pay someone else or learn. Considering how cheap I am, this was a no-brainer. Actually, I really wanted to learn and it was a great way to substantiate buying new tools. As I would explain to Dawn -"Listen, I could spend thousands to pay someone else or spend hundreds on the tools that could be used over and over." She never argued that logic. Before actually making a purchase, I would borrow a tool for a small project just to see if I could get the hang of it. Also, being cheap, I would take into consideration if I would be using the tool again and again - making it worth the investment.

I was able to borrow a power miter saw to do some molding work - simple 45 degree cuts for base molding and casement around doors. When it came time to intall the cove molding around the new kitchen cabinets - I had to decline. The molding was maple wood pre-finished from the manufacturer and very expensive to replace- I needed a real carpenter. I hired someone that came highly recommended. I should have bought the saw and practiced with some scrap cove molding - he did a horrible job - the corners didn't match up, the wood was too hard for his nail gun - I was convinced I could have done a better job on my first attempt. That was it - I haven't hired anyone since then. Yeh, it may take more time, but it usually comes out better and I'm the one that has to look at it.

A decent power miter saw will cost about $250. You can find cheaper and more expensive but I always find the middle of the road to be the best value. I now use this saw probably more than all my other saws combined and I've got a lot of saws. When Dawn was looking to dress up some entrance ways into our Dining room and Living Room, I purchased these French Doors.

What really makes the project is the finish. In this case it would be the moldings. After a few trial angles I had that cove molding going together like it was made that way.
I particularly like the meshing of the coat closet with the French Door - probably because it was my idea. Dawn wasn't home when I made that executive decision - very gutsey, I know! She usually has final say on anything that is visible. Anything hidden behing walls, floors and ceilings is my territory - things that need to work. Her area is the asthetic value. That's why we're such a good team - she couldn't care less how it works and I couldn't care less how it looks!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Window Replacement

No matter how clean your house may be, with the proper conditions, mold will grow. It's unsightly; it smells and will adversely affect your health. No matter how much you clean and kill those spores, they will return until you eliminate the environment in which they thrive - moisture.
The bathroom in our master bedroom had a double hung wood window that was part of the original construction - making it over 40 years old. I knew its days were numbered, but we have many others in more dire need of replacement. I'm also in the middle of a basement renovation, so I'm not thinking about starting another new project - that is, until Dawn said I am. I guess it got to be too much for her, after thoroughly cleaning the bathroom only to still smell a musty mold aroma.
Now, I don't want to come across as a sexist here, but my experience has proven (at least to me) that women seem to have a sharper sense of smell than men. Yes, I do have other evidence to support this claim. Many years ago, I was involved with a project to replace a roof on a school in NY City. The principal - a man - was receiving complaints from many of the teachers - women- of a bad odor, roof tar. The principal and I walked the halls and stuck our noses into classrooms - we smelled nothing. Seeing the obvious, he suggested having the assistant principal - a woman - join us. As the three of us investigated the illusive odor the assistant principal suddenly stopped in her tracks and proclaimed "Here! I smell it here - right behind my eyes." The principal and I just looked at each other - not a word did we speak - we were way out numbered. So, if Dawn says there's an odor in the bathroom - there's an odor in the bathroom! The window goes!
In order to replace an existing window, you need to measure the rough opening - not the window or the outside of the molding. This will require you to remove the molding around the perimeter of the window. Take care in doing this. If caulking was placed around the molding where it meets the wall or if paint has built up, it will need to be cut with a utility knife. If you don't score this properly, the paint on the molding will pull the paint and possibly the paper backing right off the sheetrock wall. Next, protect the wall from your tool. Removing the molding will require a prying tool. You will punch a hole right through the wall if you pry against it. A scrap piece of wood works well here.
After removing all the moldings, you should see insulation surrounding the window - I saw daylight and an abandoned bee's nest! The small amount of insulation I did find was doing nothing. Now I see why we had an odor in this bathroom, no caulking outside the window to prevent moisture from entering and insulation missing. The result was a wood window that was constantly wet - a virtual breeding ground for mold.
The first thing I did in this room, after we moved in 4 years ago, was install a bath exhaust fan. After a shower, the condensation would cover every surface. The fan worked well but not for the window for reasons that are now apparent. With the moldings off and insulation discarded, measure the distance between the 2x4 wall studs on either side of the window - inside to inside. Do the same top to bottom - this is the rough opening. You'll need these measurements to buy the replacement window. For example; the rough opening of my window was 26.5" x 41". The window I bought required a rough opening of 25" x 38". I had to add some lumber to one side and both the top and bottom to reduce the opening size. Try not to buy a window that is bigger than your rough opening - that will require a few more steps.
Most windows will come with instructions on the proper install and tools required. Removing the old window is pretty easy. Mine was nailed from the outside, so a few taps on each corner with my hammer and out she went. Replacement of a window takes some basic carpentry skills so I wouldn't recommend attempting it as your first home improvement project. This is a project for two, so maybe you can find a friend or neighbor who's done it before. As for cost to have a contractor install, you can simply double the material costs. If one window costs $200, a carpenter will charge between $200 - $250 to install the one window. My house has over 20 windows, so I'll be putting that $4000 - $5000 back in my pocket - or towards Dawn's new kitchen.
At the end of the day, after everything was cleaned up and my tools away Dawn came out of the bathroom with a big smile - "I don't smell anything!"
Mission accomplished!

Coming soon: Finishing the casement molding around the new window or I’ve got a miter saw and I’m not afraid to use it!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Nothing is getting done!

Every 'now and again' Dawn and I get that feeling that those small maintenance type sub-projects are not being attended to - by me, of course. She says, "Nothing's getting done!" while I say, "I'm completely overwhelmed!" It seems as though these minor repairs are coming at me from every direction and I can't keep up. The latest nuisance occurs while she's been at the kitchen sink that's missing the faucet aerator screen - keeping the water flowing in the down direction. I always thought those things were to keep rocks out of your Iced Tea. Well, they do that AND keep the Dish Washer (for this example - that would be my wife) from getting a bath! Why the faucet is missing in the first place is a whole other boring and completely pointless story that makes sense only to me – so, we’ll skip that part.

Cleaning or replacing the aerator is very easy and you should be able to do it without any tools. I know I won't need any tools because the aerators missing - I'm halfway done - all I need is the aerator! Ah ha! There's the problem - getting to the hardware store. I have this thing about running out each and every time I need something. Dawn thinks I just don’t like “running errands” – to me, it’s a huge waste of time. If I’m going out to get something, I need to make at least three stops to feel efficient – that’s another boring and completely pointless story that makes sense only to me – so, we’ll skip that too.

Let’s get onto the repair. First of all, close the drain with a dish cloth so you don't lose any parts, this way I won’t have to explain how to take the P-trap apart. You don't need to turn off the water supply for this repair. The aerator is the assembly and screen water passes through as it leaves the spout. This part at the tip of the spout unscrews in a clockwise direction. Righty tighty, lefty loosey (I hate saying that) does not apply because you’re looking at the top of the faucet and you’re unscrewing away from you. Usually, when you unscrew something, it backs out toward you. This would only apply if you miniaturized yourself and were in the sink looking up at the aerator.

Dry both the spout and your hands before trying to remove it with your fingers. If it is too tight, then you are going to need to use an adjustable wrench. Caution here - before using the pliers on the faucet, wrap several loops of electrical tape or a rubber band around the aerator. If you squeeze the aerator too much you could bend it out of round and if you don’t squeeze enough, the pliers could slip and scratch the finish. Be careful.
Once you remove the aerator you will notice one or more parts contained within. Note the order and orientation of the parts as you remove them so they go back the same way – yes, it matters! As you take them out you will probably find grit and rust. Rinse the pieces with water and brush off the debris. For difficult to remove deposits, soak the parts in white vinegar for a few minutes and scrub with a toothbrush. If any parts are cracked or broken, replace them. If the washer has hardened, it should be replaced. The whole contraption costs less than $5 – treat yourself!
With the debris cleaned out, reassemble the aerator and screw it back onto the faucet. Hand tightening should be adequate and it will if you use Teflon tape. If you don’t already, I strongly recommend having a roll Teflon tape in your tool box. This stuff will stop any leak on anything with a thread. The trick is to wrap the tape in the direction that you’ll be screwing back onto and use very little otherwise catching the threads will be difficult.
That's it, done.

So, here I am on the train Monday morning, thinking about how much work I had planned to accomplish around the house this weekend and how she’s right – nothing is getting done! Okay, so there were two soccer games and a dance rehearsal, soccer cleats that had to be returned because I bought 2 different size shoes – it seems like when I try to help, I cause more work in the long run - a backyard party, shopping for a gift for the backyard party, 9 holes of golf with my sons – which is the most important thing I did all weekend and dinner at Mom’s Sunday night – the culinary highlight of the week. Actually, it’s amazing I did all that and had time to fix the sink!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Bench Seat

We had a major problem. Four school children with backpacks, lunch bags and coats all piled up by the back door. Add to this mess everyone else's shoes, flip flops, and my size elevens made that the disaster area. Oh yeah, at the first sign of snow it was the desperate search for hats, gloves and scarfs.

I had to do something, but the space was extremely limited. As you walk through our back door, there is a six foot wide pantry to your left. Then comes the laundry room where Dawn usually throws everything into and shuts the door before company arrives with explicit directions to NOT open this door. To the right is the garage door and then two side by side closets that were used by the previous owner as a broom closet and kitchen storage. Not much room, but this was our main entrance, being right off the driveway.

I saw this picture in a magazine that I really liked and thought it would solve our problem. It was a simple bench seat that would store shoes below and a shelf unit with hooks for coats and bags and storage above. Only problem, I had no space by the back door to put this. The two side by side closets became very inefficient after I had central air conditioning installed. The air ducts occupied much of those closets. I decided to lose both closets altogether and set back the wall which created an alcove that I would build a bench seat and have storage above for winter wear.

We were very pleased with the final product. I backed up the beadboard with 1/2" plywood so the hardware, Dawn found at Lowes, would be strong enough to handle the weight of the loaded backpacks. I found the four baskets AFTER I built the shelf - not too bright. The neat part is the finish - of course, not my idea. After the paint job, I would have been done - admiring my work with a beer in one hand while patting myself on the back with the other. Dawn stopped me on the way to the fridge. "Now, it needs to be antiqued." That's when you make something brand new, look old! I would have never thought of this. I always tried to keep old things looking new! Anyway, it doesn't matter what I think. Before I knew it I was rubbing sandpaper on my brand new paint job, then came the stain and then a couple of coats of varnish. I think she wanted me to put on three coats but had mercy.

Be sure to check out more DIY projects over at Kimba's! Click on the graphic below.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Getting Away

At about 5pm last Monday, I’m preparing to leave the office for a few days away with the family, before the kids go back to school. I had booked a couple of days in Hershey, PA. I love Hershey Park - very family oriented, reasonably priced and not too far of a drive – about 4 hours. Well, my office phone rings and I see from the caller ID that it’s my wife. She probably wants to know what train I’ll be on, obviously excited about taking the kids away - I was only half right. Yes, it was Dawn but she was upset because of the car. On her way home, just about every light on the dash was lit. She thought we would have to postpone the trip a day or two. I booked the hotel a month ago. It was very unlikely we would be able to find another room for the 6 of us at the last minute. “Not an option, I told her – we’re going!” Extremely upset, she demands -“You need to call Eddie, right now - see what he says!” I very calmly replied, “No, Eddie will not be able to tell us anything about the problem just by dashboard warning lights. I’ll take a look at it when I get home.” You see, Eddie is our local car mechanic. I told Dawn I’d take it to him first thing in the morning.
I must mention something very important here. As much as I know about house construction, repairs and remodeling, I know absolutely nothing about cars. Not that I haven’t tried, you see automobiles require a whole different set of tools and knowledge – of which I never acquired. My only memory of my father working under the hood of our family wagon was when the light he was using to see fell and broke on the engine requiring him to pick broken glass out of the carburetor with needle-nose pliers. I’m not laughing because I’m no better. My automotive expertise is limited to changing the engine oil and I don’t even do that anymore. I decided to hang up my oil wrench after a single drop of motor oil flew from the oil can landing in my eye as I spun it onto the underside of the engine. I was wearing contact lenses which are plastic and plastic is a petroleum based product. Well, when oil and plastic are combined, the plastic kind of melts – right on my eye!
So, back to our trip. When I finally arrived home, I could see the vehicle information book was out of the glove compartment and open on the kitchen table. “We have no ‘Stabil-i-Trac’. The book says not to drive the car – it’s not safe – what’s ‘Stabil-i-Trac?” I don’t know what it is and I really don’t care. What I do know is that I’ve been driving vehicles for over 30 years without it and it was not going to keep me from taking the kids to Hershey Park!
The next morning I got to the gas station where Eddie hooked up a small computer to the car. One of the seven computers in the car was not communicating with the other computers. That would make all the dashboard lights come on. Eddie thought it would be safe to drive to Hershey. That was all I wanted to hear. I got home and told Dawn what Eddie said which only seemed to slightly appease her. Then, the questions – “Does he know we’re going to Hershey?” “Yes.” “He said it’s OK?” “Yes.” “…to go all the way to Hershey?” “Yes.” She usually runs out of ways to ask the same question. The trick is not to answer any differently – she would have made a great trial attorney!
The car is loaded with bags, kids and a bottle of wine (that’s for me if we break down half way there!) and we’re off. We didn’t get out of our development before Dawn started telling me how nervous all the lights on the dash was making her. So, I took a piece of paper and covered the instrument panel. But not before she could see the Brake lights were on as well. “Now, the brakes!?! Are we going to lose the brakes?” “No.” “Are you sure? How do you know?” “Because the brakes are not computer operated.” “Did Eddie see the brake light?” “Yes.” “He did?” “Yes.” “What did he say?” “Nothing, it’s not a problem.” “How do you know? I’m very nervous about this.” At this point I stated that I would no longer discuss anything else about the car.
Everything was going along fine. After about an hour, we were approaching the Whitestone Bridge that will take us off Long Island and into the Bronx and I realized the air conditioning is not working. Now, I’m getting nervous, what next? Reluctantly, I told Dawn. Prepared for her shock, I said, “We’re turning around to go back and get the mini-van.” To which she replies, “I’m not comfortable with the van either.” At this point I believe I said something about leaving her in Queens, but I decided instead to open the windows and attempt crossing the bridge. You see, I’m not as scared to break down on a very busy, major New York bridge with 4 kids and no shoulder as I am to hear Dawn say “I told you so.” for the rest of my life.
Yes, we made it to Hershey and back. The kids had a great time – we all did. So, this morning, as I’m telling my boss about the trip and why I was late due to dropping the car at the dealer, Dawn calls me from our driveway – “I can’t get the van out of park!” What can I say; she just keeps giving me great material!

Monday, September 1, 2008

We need a fence

Last week, I received one of my wife’s frantic phone calls. She tends to call me in the middle of a tragedy at home. I think she does it just so I don’t feel left out.
“We need a fence!” I know this doesn’t seem like something to get excited over, but I know my wife - something must have happened. “Chickie2 was chasing a ball, tripped over a stump and fell in the neighbors driveway!” Normally, this would be no big deal. Chickie2 (our 10 year old) has been tripping and falling and running into things since he was able to stand on his feet - Chickie2 doesn’t know how walk. So, how did this particular fall become my fault? Most things are my fault, some are just easier to point back in my direction. You see, we’ve discussed installing a fence before. The kids are constantly chasing a ball, through the hemlocks bordering our property, into the road. I actually had a fence contractor come to the house and give us an estimate of $2500 to supply and install a new wood fence – nothing fancy, no gate, no PVC covering, just a plain wood fence. So, we both agreed, I’d be installing the fence - myself.
OK, so now there’s been an injury. See how this is my fault? Next came Dawn’s plan; “…so, this weekend chickie2 has a soccer tournament on Saturday and Sunday…both games start at 2pm, so you’ll have both mornings to get the fence done.” My reply was, “OK, no problem.” - knowing full well that even if I had two full days to install about 100 linear feet of fence, it wouldn’t be enough time. Additionally, I’m in the middle of a basement renovation and about a half dozen other repairs that are much more urgent. So, once again, they’ll be another unfinished house project. But, after 16 years of marriage, I’ve learned it doesn’t pay to argue when she’s in an emotional mood. She only wants to hear one thing out of my mouth and that was it.
Well, as usual, she did eventually come back to her senses and we all had a good laugh at the soccer field. The thought of me outside digging post holes while she would have had to run around all morning getting everyone ready for an entire afternoon at a soccer field was quite comical. Yes, the fence will eventually get done - hopefully before another injury - but as I said to one of the other dads as we both sat in our beach chairs watching the games – “This sure beats working around the house!”

Until next time,


I'd like to thank everyone who left me a comment on my premier blog.
I appreciate everyone's support. Dawn said I needed a picture and you know what they say - a picture is worth a thousand projects! More to come.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

How it all began

Our first house was a small ranch. Something we could afford that didn’t look like it needed any work. It was perfect! Silly us, we should have been suspicious when the sellers jumped on our counter offer like a pair of hungry wolves. Let the buyer beware. As the band-aids started falling off, we soon saw how much work this little money pit really needed. The only thing I had going for me was the desire to do it all myself – the fact that I couldn’t afford to pay anyone might have had a little to do with it. On a positive note, this is the only way to learn about how to make maintenance repairs, home improvements and remodeling. Add to this that little fact that you can save a king’s ransom by doing these projects yourself and that sense of pride when things get completed.
“How do I start? I have no tools, no experience and I cannot afford to hire contractors. This house is beginning to overwhelm me. I didn’t realize all the repairs that would be required when I bought it.”
Does this sound familiar? For many it does. Not many of us can afford a full time maintenance man to take care of the day to day repairs of a house—that’s what you’re there for! Well, that’s what your wife thinks and we all know, whatever your wife thinks—is! So, what’s the solution? Either make more money or do what I did—learn how to repair stuff! If you’re reading this, chances are you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. That’s a good first step. Let’s hope you don’t faint over the sight of your own blood. I’ve had to make more than one trip to the emergency room during my home improvement projects. Actually, I’ve sustained more injuries working at home than I have in over 25 years of working in construction.
Still here? OK, for those of you who were not scared away, let’s get started. When I bought my first house, I was still working as an electrician. I did not have much experience in the carpentry field, but I loved the smell of wood—cutting it, sanding it—I just like to work with it. All I had was a circular saw. You’d be surprised what you could do with just this one tool.
Let’s talk tools; do you like them? Want to have a wood shop with an impressive assortment of tools? Yea, every man does – it’s like shoes to women! Every time I drool over, I mean need a new tool for my next project, I just explain to my wife how much it would cost to hire a contractor and voila – another power tool in my stable.

Well, that’s how it started. That first house gave me the confidence to perform all my own home repairs. Actually, by the end of the ten years we lived in that little ranch, I completely renovated the entire house and added a playroom in an unused attic. Then what did I do? Sold it and bought another house twice the size as the first with twice as much work. Yep, time to start all over again. This time, with four kids that are very active in sports and dance. Yes, this is going to be very interesting.