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!