Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Goal: Exterior Remodel

May 2011
Our biggest wish for the house in 2011 was for it to look a lot better from the outside.  We were very lucky to have taken advantage of the home-buyers tax credit and when I filed my taxes in February the government sent me a check for $8,000.  We were itching to improve our little place with the money.  The biggest issue was going to be our long wish list and our not so impressive budget. 

Wish List included:
1. Replace all windows that were not original to the house.  There was several reasons for this.  First, all the 'newer' windows were the worst culperts for drafts, inoperability and general frustration.  Second they were just plain ugly and did not go with the house.  The house currently boasted two alumium sliding windows from the 1970's (definitely not in keeping with the house) and some cheap 2006-2009 vinyl double hungs that were already leaking. 
2. Remove 1970's 10" cedar siding that did not match the style of the house and made it look stumpy.  Replace with more correct cedar shingles or 5" cedar siding.
3.  Repair/replace trim around windows, doors and eaves that had been removed or damaged in the 1970's.
4. Replace 8' wide impossible to open or lock sliding glass door to the back porch.
5. Remove dangerous understructured and sagging back porch.
6. Install insulation in walls so our house could get above 60 degrees in the winter.
7. Repair original windows to former glory.
8. Paint whole house pretty colors!

Is that enough for you? It was enough for us to get quotes in the $30,000-40,000 range.  Gulp... not exactly what we were thinking. We needed it be less than half than that amount.  Amazingly, we were undetered and figured we should start and see how long we could make it until the money ran out.  We started with this list in December and moved forward.

Our first step was to buy some of the new windows in 2010 so we could get a tax credit.  We decided to start with the ones that needed the most work.  The upper story windows on the front of the house had been replaced by the owner prior to the sale due to rot.  By the time we saw the house it had two short misproportioned vinyl double hungs in the master bedroom.  It truly made the house feel short and they were hard to open.  We had a feeling looking at some other similiar houses in Portland that the upper windows might have been casements instead of double-hungs. The double hungs just didn't seem to match.  And just as important we like casement windows better and felt it would give us a vertically currently lacking on the facade.  

We wanted the windows to be wood, inside and outside.  I did not want alumium clad or vinyl wrapped, I wanted wood... like how all windows used to be made.  Apparently, this is not even an option anymore?  So, we had to custom order our windows.  Since we had a 7' opening upstairs we took a risk and assumed that between the existing two upper windows there was no structure and bought a Chicago style, simulated divided light, wood insert.  I can't show you a picture yet because it would spoil the reveals but o baby is this a beautiful window!

The next window we decided to replace was the staircase window.  This window was a 1970's alumium window that we opened everyday during the summer to let in the fresh air.  It had no screen (read BUGS) and looked horrible.  I wanted to get a double casement for the window but it was too narrow so we opted for a single large casement and matched the front windows.

The last thing we purchased was a new set of French doors to replace the sliding glass door.  For those of you who have never purchased a French door, probably most of you, they are VERY expensive.  I am not exactly sure why a sliding door in the same size and material can cost 50% less... but it can.   But let's face it, you cannot put a sliding glass door in a 1920's house... So we sucked it up and custom ordered a solid wood divided light 6' French door for the back.  We picked the smaller size because we wanted to install a dog door for Gus so we could give him an option to see the world when we were at work.  More on that later...

We took a gulp and ran the credit card and set ourselves back about $4,500.  This budgeting was not going well.  (The good news is that the US government gave us $1,500 for the windows since they were so energy efficient, and Oregon gave us another $150 on top of that).  Still, we were gonna really have to pinch our pennies from here on out if anything else was going to happen on this house.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Raising a Garden... Loose Ends

April 2011

Weekend 4: We still needed to do some finishing work around the beds.   Our goals were to: install a walkway between the beds, make a small pad at the top, lay stepping stones to our front door and create a landscaped border around the beds to connect with our existing landscaping.  We ordered a yard of gravel and had it delivered on Saturday, we bought a bunch of ledger stones from Lowes and got ready to work.

The first item on the agenda, was to install several steps on the pathway to navigate the elevation change from the sidewalk up to our house. This proved harder then we thought, all the ledger stones were different heights and widths, we played for several hours trying to get them to stack level and fit inside our pathway.  (Background we, by that I mean myself, wanted these stones because they were natural and would have a nice contrast against the very rigid angular raised beds).  In the end, I will admit this was not a good decision.  We probably should have bought stones that had been cut to standard sizes and that way we could have made the entire thing a little more even. Regrets... always...  We can always come back and replace them later, since the stones could be used anywhere.

After mortaring (this is not a word) the stones into steps we covered the pathway in weed fabric and poured the gravel in.  We didn't rent a compactor so there was a lot of stomping involved in the process.  Up at the top we realized we were a little short on gravel.  We also realized we were going to need an edger to hold the gravel in place.  We decided to use some existing bricks we had found on the property.  Seriously, every time I dig anywhere I find a brick, weird right?   We also used some old flagstones to make up for the lack of gravel.  This was starting to become a disturbing trend to this project-- let's use all this random stuff we have lying around.

The final step was to soften it up a bit, we bought some lavender and rosemary bushes to put along the right bed.  I picked these because they attract natural pollinators (thanks for the book mom) and stay colorful year around.  We also installed stepping stones up to the front door and inside the landscaping areas to allow us to access both sides of the bed. A little bit of grass seed and we put some of our starts into the beds and called it a weekend.

The moral of the story is this was a little rough.  After three weekends of dirt digging, building, dirt filling and compost hefting we were worn out.  I think the end result is still really successful and I love the beds, but I have a feeling in a year or so you will see another post about changes and upgrades we have made.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Raising A Garden... Weekend 2

March 2011

Josh and I had started all of our seeds indoors and they were GROWING, we woke up early on Saturday so we could get moving.   The goal for the weekend was to complete the boxes and fill them with compost/soil.  Considering all we did the first weekend was move dirt from one area to another we knew this was easier said then done.

Josh got back to work on his patio workshop and I started leveling the area for our long beds.  We had managed to have a few early hours without rain and moved quickly.  To make the beds more interesting we ran a 2"x4" banding strip 24" up.  This has no purpose other then decorative but I think it was worth it. These are just for growing plants but they are also in our front yard.  Since we never take pictures of actual people you will have to use Gus as a scale object.  The beds are about 40" tall at the side walk and up by the house are only 14" tall.  This allowed us to negotiate the hillside and provide different heights for all of our different plants.  We created a stacked cap using a 2"x4" and a 2"x6".  We did this for two reasons, one purely decorative again, and two, for a place to rest tools when working.

By Saturday, we had finished the right side of the boxes.  On Sunday, Josh got to work on the left side while I went to the garden store for 15 bags of top soil and compost.  As you can see by the last picture we didn't finish until very late on Sunday. The caps were actually pretty hard, Josh mitred the corners together.  This would have been easier if we weren't using a hand held circular saw. Tools... you never seem to have the perfect one... 

In the end, we felt pretty good about our progress.  In total we had made 2- 3'x3' beds, 2- 3' x 8' beds and 1- 3' x 6' bed.  In all we created  84 sq ft of raised planting area... not to shabby.  We hoped the following weekend would be a little easier.  We still needed to install some sort of steps, pathway, and landscaping. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Raising A Wet Garden... Weekend 1

 March 2011

Josh and I waited and waited for the rain to stop so we could start building our garden, then we remembered... we live in Oregon.  We really need to toughen up, so we went out in a light mist and started digging.  Since the rain is never ending we worked slowly. While it was easy to get our shovel in the ground (something in VA I was not used to) the soil was wet and heavy. Saturday amounted to about 8 hours of manual shoveling and the creation of a large mud pile in our parking strip. The soil was so wet we had to tarp the ground and place a tarp over the pile to keep it from running off... yay.  Also, I learned that good tarps are expensive like $60 a pop.
About half way through the day I began to realize how quickly you can get blisters and sore muscles.  I am clearly a big wuss.  Ditch digging is not for sissies and the repetitive motion is pretty mind numbing.   However, by the end of the day I had a pretty impressive mud hole to show for it. Cough.

On Sunday, with a whole new level of sore added to the equation I kept digging.  Josh started building the first two boxes.  The wood that we bought was fresh sawn so it was wet and heavy.  Most of the pieces were over 12' long so even getting them out of the garage to his impromtu back porch woodshop was difficult.  Honestly, there is not much to share on my end, I kept digging singing my own 'just keep digging, just keep digging' song in the rain to myself as neighbors passed by shaking their heads.

Josh had designed the beds to be self supporting he knotched each side so that the pieces interlocked and could stand together with only a few nails.  This was important because we didn't want to have to put posts in the corners.  While he worked away I leveled the ground with some sand and installed pavers at the four corners of each box to give us a level foundation. By 2:00pm he had built the first level of both boxes and we put them in place.  I then wrapped the interior of the boxes in plastic to protect the wood from moisture and slow down the rotting process. 

Josh came out and helped me in the next task, putting all the dirt we moved... back into the place it was before!  Lovely!  It was a long weekend without much to show for it.  However, the most important part was that we started the task. The week called for heavy rain (surprise) so we tarped everything we could, the ground, the boxes, the mud piles and packed it in for 5 days of rest.