Thursday, June 26, 2008

Two New Additions to the Blogroll

I picked up two new additions to the Blogroll.

The first This Reluctant Soil is pretty new, and has more to do with building a fine urban garden, but in looking at their slide show, they also did a rather extensive renovation. I'm hoping that they find motivation to blog about the story of their renovation. In any case, a garden should be part of any urban reno, so this one is in. I like their style.

The next blog addition is Remodeling for Geeks . This one is a must-read for the DIY renovator and rehabber. I've gotten some good stuff from there already.

There you have them. Check 'em out!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

I love my in-laws.

I know, not something you hear everyday, but if anyone has earned it, they are my mother-in-law and my father-in-law. Simply put, they rock.

Background info: I have one of those obnoxious birthdays that is perfectly seated in the U.S. holidays so that it is overshadowed and ultimately banished to the back corner of the room behind all of the Christmas wrapping paper, Hannukah socks and New Year's Eve travel plans. Been like that my whole life... until I met my hubby.

Hubby decided that I should have a birthday away from the chaos of December, and so he moved it six months away from all of the extracurricular fuss. We've been celebrating my half-birthday for seven years now, and I'm kinda beginning to like having a birthday again. Who knew these things could actually be 'fun'?

OK, so back to the in-laws: Total buy-in for the halfsies B-day thing. The whole shebang. Bells, whistles, and wrapping paper. So yesterday, hubby let me sleep in to past 9AM. When I finally climbed out of bed, dragging my sore bod down to the living room, there in the middle of the floor is a large golden wrapped box. (Apparently the folks came over early and dropped it off, cuz I know it wasn't there the night before.)

"Can I open it?... It's not my 1/2B until Tuesday..."
"Sure. Mom and Dad brought it over because they're going out of town and wanted you to have it early."

Not being one of those kinds of adults who delicately slides open the taped joints of the shimy paper and unfold each corner of wrapping paper, as if to say, 'gee, I'm really over budget on the rehab, I may need this to re-wrap a gift for Mom on her next birthday, I wonder if she'll notice it's the same paper'.... I dove into the wrapping paper like Mark Spitz into water. (That just doesn't sound the same out loud as it formed in my head, you know?)

Afterward, I called up my in-laws to thank them for the generous gift. My mother-n-law answered the phone:

Me: "Thank you so much... you absolutly rock!"
Mom: "WHAT?! You OPENED it??! It's not your birthday until TUESDAY!"
Me: "B-b-b-but, I thought that. . . . [hubby] said that I could . . . . I I I I ...."

To which, after a moment of strained silence, was met with uproarious laughter on the other end of the phone as my father-in-law off in the kitchen loses it.

They got me.

They also got me just what I wanted.
I tell ya, these kids UNDERSTAND a daughter-in-law. They really do.

Thanks, you two. ;-)

Shout Out to Bob--Top Tapcon Taskmaster

Bob Carlisle deserves another "atta". We ran out of the masonry fasteners that we use to fur our exterior walls and otherwise attach stuff to brick. It was Tuesday evening and we're under the gun to get the place furred out for the electrician.

We then forgot to order new fasteners until late Wednesday. H made her order with again. They cost about 33% less than the big box hardware stores charge--including shipping. THURSDAY afternoon they were waiting for us. That was less than 24 hours turn around, AND it saved us good money. Oh and they throw in the bits too.

If you need Tapcons, go to

Here's a video of Bob showing you how to use Tapcons. "Atta" boy, Bob!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Picking the paint colors- exterior

We've settled on a paint pallet.

We've been picking up paint swatches for months now. We knew we wanted to go with a sage-greenish color and sandstone colored trim, but you'd be amazed at what that range actually turns out to be, and how many of the colors we *thought* we'd love actually turned out to look like baby poop or just sickly.

So we gave up on swatches. No matter what we looked at in a small patch just didn't work out (look right ) on a larger scale. We know because we would go up to a house that we thought was just awful, compare a swatch, and of course it would turn out to be one of our top three choices.

Lesson: Learn from the mistakes of others.
Corollary: Imitate the successes of others.

While driving around, looking at corbels, cornices and whatnots, I yelled out "stop the car!" and there it was. The perfect paint color, the perfect trim... the house was similarly aged and brick.... and these people had class.

We knocked on their door and a wonderful woman answered and we talked about the paint job on the house and where the paints came from (turned out to ber ICI paints here in Covington- they manufacture paints for Glidden, Dulux, etc.) I was desperate to know what the exact colors were, so I gave her our card and hoped she'd find out when her husband returned.

Not to let it go, but I did a google search the next day and found out their phone number from their address. I called, apologetically for being so intrusive, and left a message.

Minutes passed.

The phone rang.

You'll never guess what the husband did for a living.... Yup, he was a house painter. (Now a custom metal worker.. helooo wrought iron fence...) In any case he spoke with my hubby and yes, he knew not only where the paint was from, but it was a custom color and he still had the specific numbers (recipe) and now it's ours!!! (Thank you Kimberly and Dan!!)

It's perfect! (see above)

And below is a rudimentary approximation of the colors & placement for ours: (I hope it ends up looking a lot more like his that this picture!) But you get the general idea.

It's such a relief knowing such a major decision is behind us.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Bathroom tiling- followup.

So we finished the first floor bathroom tile. We picked up some nice looking marble at Surplus Warehouse and installed it using the very same method you will see on any DIY website/blog.TV show/DVD, etc. Using dry (water added) Thinset, 1/2" square notched trowel, a rented tile saw, (which we forgot to return for 2 days! Doh!) a red wax pencil (for marking darker tiles) and a measuring tape.

The only thing I would suggest that we didn't do, is fully cut and layout ALL of the tiles BEFORE you mix the thinset. We laid them all out on the livingroon floor the day before, and prepared which ones would go where, but we started installing the tiles thinking that since we only had eight to cut, and they would all be straight cuts, that the following day I could start setting them in thinset, and install the last ones as they were cut.

I thought we had a pretty good bead on the layout only to get stymied mid-stride by having NOT included the extra space for the threshold. This meant some additional unexpected cuts. A quick reconfigure and a good 20 minutes later, I noticed that the tiles already installed set up pretty quick with the thinset.

Some of the tiles that were put in later than the first ones , turned out to be about 1/16" higher at the edges. Now probably only I will notice it, and only if I'm barefooted, but it's something to consider before you get started. The point is, if you lay them all out with the thinset in one big batch, you can level them all together and probably get a much better job.

Now that we've got a better idea of how to set tile down, on our most recent trip to Home Depot we came across some cheap 12x12" tile (about $1/sq foot) and picked it up for the 3rd floor guest bathroom. Those suckers have 15 tiles in each package and they are HEAVY.

We got four. They haven't made it to the third floor yet. We're working on it.

Today we screwed down the 1/4" OSB down on the second floor bathroom, and are almost ready to put the Hardibacker down. I think we'll be waiting a while before we actually get the tile down on that floor.

Attention: Completely unrelated rant warning: woot woot woot.

So, another long day under our toolbelts, and I apologize in advance for the crabbiness, but, both Hubby and I start work in the office at 6:45AM. In the afternoons we get to the site and work as much as we can. Then about 7 PM, we head back home to finish up more office work. We usually get to eating dinner at about 9 or 10PM, watch a Netflix, and head off to bed at about 12:30. Then we start the same routine all over again, six days a week. On the seventh, well, you know.

So anyway, we sometimes find ourselves at the local grocery store rustling up some grub for dinner before heading home. Yesterday evening was one of those nights and I still had my camera in the car.

We pulled into the parking spot and found the grocery cart just sitting there in the space. That peeves me in the first place because it's MY car that gets hit by the darn thing after someone ELSE leaves it there. I mean, just how much energy does one person need to expend to roll (not carry on your back or anything) but ROLL it over to the cart receptacle area where they WON'T roll out and hit anyone else's car.

How lazy and obnoxious do you have to be to NOT push the cart the five feet away to the cart collection area? It was right there!!!

No matter how tired we are at the end of the day, we put our carts back where they won't damage anyone else's car. I consider it a courtesy, if not an obligation.

So whoever you are, lazy cart person, I hope one day you leave your cart behind in the parking space and I hope it chases you down and dings your door on your way out of the lot.
So there.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

What happens when you use the wrong mortar on brick

Hubby previously mentioned 'spalling' of brick caused by using a mortar mix that was too hard for the bricks to expand and contract, causing the surface of the brick to shatter, and eventually disintegrate. I took some photos of our brick and of a brick house built within 6 months of our home in the same neighborhood.

Ok, kids, let's play 'Bad Mason/Good Mason'.

Bad Mason:

Up at the top of this wall, the sparrows have dug small nests into the brick where they've dug out the soft brick.

Below: good Mason: Puuuuuurdy brick. :-)

Ibuprofin, and lots of it.

I've been the 10" circular saw maven of the house since this project began. It's my saw, and I use it about 90% of the time.

But it's an old saw. A Makita from 1995ish, I believe. And heavy. I used to use the saw all the time and never had any problems before, but now as I cut into my 400th or so 2x4, my right elbow is just plain sore.

Hubby tells me it's tennis elbow.

Yesterday, I set the saw on top of our makeshift OSB table as we finished furring out the second floor 'office' (yeah, one more room done!) and bumped into a 2x4 that knocked the saw off of the table. In a split second, I quickly reached out and grabbed the saw mid air 2' from the ground, saving the saw from certain death, and most definitely totally wrenching my elbow in rather excruciating pain.

I'm researching how to crush up ibuprofen in a sterile solution so I can IV the concoction straight into the elbow. They seem to be all out of morphine at the Krogers Rx.

Moral of the story: learn to share your toys more with your spouse.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Pointing Up and Mixing Mortar

Old brick is soft. We have old brick. We are repainting, so any pointing that should be done needs to be done now. Because the brick is so soft, we cannot use standard, "Type N" Mortar. It won't give and when the brick expands and contracts or takes on water, the mortar will hold fast and brick will spall. So, we need a more historically appropriate mortar, like "Type O" or even "Type K"

"Type N" mortar (i.e. what Quikrete sells as Mortar) should consist of six cups of sand, one cup of lime and one cup of Portland. A "Type O" mortar should consist of 2 1/4 to 3 times as many cups of sand as portland and lime. "Type O" should have 1.25-2.5 times as much lime as portland. "Type K" should have 2.5-4 times as much lime as cement.

What I did was take 2 cups of "type N" mortar and added 1 cup of lime and 3 cups of sand (of a fairly coarse and thus similar to original variety) to the mortar. Then, to toughen it up just a tad, I add another 1/2 cup of portland, or perhaps a bit less. So I end up with:

3/4 cup portland
1 1/4 cups lime
4 1/2 cups of sand


After doing more research, we've found that you can use lime in much greater quantities if it is finer. Not only that, but it's both easier to work with AND plenty tough. We also found that we were using WAY TOO MUCH PORTLAND. Fortunately, it was just shallow pointing and protected from water. The key thing to remember is no more than 20% portland to portland+lime.

Here's the recipe I used much later when replacing bricks:

1 part Type N Mortar
2 1/2 parts Lime
5 parts sand

We also added a teaspoon of putty colored dye. This makes the mortar almost invisible next to many older mortars. You can use a little less lime or a little less sand just watch that ratio of portland to lime.

More portland adds strength, but loses flexibility. There's a delicate balance. Too hard, and you damage your brick or worse. Too soft and you'll be doing the whole process again soon. I probably could have skipped the additional portland but I fear that it would take far too long for this relatively weak "type K" mortar to set up and we need to paint soon.

I'm pre-mixing the dry ingredients first, and keeping them in a left over kitty litter bucket with a lid. Then the painter can take out what he needs, add water to that, slake, and then go to town.

I did a test and with the larger, browner sand and the lime, this looks almost identical to what I have in there from 100 years ago. Not bad. Of course, the proof is in the pudding. We'll see how it looks prior to paint and after.

If you try to do this yourself, you'll want to read up on technique and get a few tools, but from what I've seen, getting the recipe down is probably the toughest part.

Below are pictures of the mortar only a few hours after application. The image above was of the same mortar mix, but which has cured for 24 hours.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Yesterday was our 5th wedding anniversary.

We celebrated it with a bit of furring, then champagne, and a roast hen with garlic scapes. For those of you not yet hip to these, they are the un-opened flowers and tender stalks of the garlic plant. In order for garlic to bulb up properly, the scapes must be cut. Fortunately, they are ambrosia for garlic lovers. We blanch them, then sauté briefly in butter. Really, not a bad way to celebrate a great day.

We didn't exchange gifts since we already had the traditional gift for this anniversary...

(wait for it...)


Thursday, June 12, 2008


That's my term for myself when I put being funny ahead of making nice to wife.

For instance, we tend to forget things when we get this busy, so we like to leave little notes around the office to each other on the white board. My brain must not have been working.

The other day, wife was already running late and when she started the coffee she forgot to turn on the gas burner to heat the water in the coffee pot. I followed up to finish the coffee and found cold water. I thought it was funny so I left wife a cute little note as a reminder.

She reciprocated.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Kindred Spirits

As a continuation of the post below, I've unilaterally added a blogroll at right. People like us need to find other people like us. If we are stymied, it's nice to be able to see how others worked things out. If we're worn out, it's nice to see how others have gotten through it. If we're feeling proud and accomplished, it's nice to share it with others who appreciate what we're doing.

So, I'm slowly collecting a list of renovation blogs that I've read and I've liked. There are some that I've read in the past that helped get us going, but I need to go back and review them. The current list is the result of a flurry of finds last weekend. I found three that seem relevant to our blog and which are well written and enjoyable.

86'n It is referenced below. Cute couple, great project, fun blog.

Rambling Renovators is a great, deep resource. Other blogs, lots of entries, good ideas and well written. They got me started on the blogroll.

DIY Diva is a blog written by what has to be one of the gamest girls on the web. Her sheer gumption is enough to motivate any do-it-yourself-er to persevere. If you want to see her do something, tell her she can't.

Read. Enjoy. More later. For now, we have furring to do.

The problem with *space*

The problem with space is that's there's never enough where you need it.

Case in point: the stairs on the first floor. Underneath it we have planned the only first floor bathroom. It's actually a good space for just a toilet and sink, with plenty of headroom, but we had a little problem when we came to figuring out the closet we had planned right next to it. (The only closet on the first floor as well.)

You see, hubbby tends to think and operate on floor plans. How much floor space something can take up, how much room it takes to operate and maneuver comfortably within a certain space. and he's good at it, too... Buuuuut, when it comes to the final 3-dimensional final output, he tends to forget things like doors and the fact that 2 doors can't occupy the same space at the same time.

This is where the problem showed up.

A typical closet door is usually at least 22" deep if it is to hold clothing on a coat hanger. Because we were unable to remove the remainder of the brick fireplace behind this closet, the south wall of the living room is not perfectly perpendicular to the west wall of the room (the bathroom under the stairs). The left side of the closet will be about 2" deeper than the right side. I figure we'll can hide that at the back of the closet where no one will see it. As long as the fronts are perpendicular, it will look fine in the end, but it adds to the problem of the depth of the closet. That would mean it would have to be 24" deep on the left side, and that cuts into our room plans.

Also adding to the fun is the fact the door we wanted to put on the bathroom was a 30-32" door. But between the need for some room (4") to trim the door on the left side of the bathroom door and the angle of the staircase coming down on the right side of the door, well it kinda limits the width of the door. Not even a 28" door would fit with a 22" deep closet.

Since we couldn't have a 22" deep closet and we couldn't fit a bathroom door in the amount of space we were given, we either had to redesign the closet or give up on a closet altogether, and I wanted a closet.

And we needed an additional 6" of space for the bathroom door.

So we split the closet into two sections and rotated the left and right sections of the closet 90 degrees. So instead of opening the door and hanging something up straight forward, you would hang up your articles of clothing either to the left or to the right instead. I also decided to stagger the heights of the hanging bars that the clothes would hang on because it always seems to me that my long trench coats always drag into something on the bottom of a closet, or hide your shoes, and the shorter coats would be perfect to hang over boots and shoes where you can see the stuff under them on the floor.

Anyway, that's the plan. We get a good sized closet (now wider than we originally planned, but less deep) and a 28 x 84" bathroom door that fits under the stairs.

I hope.

Oh, and one more thing: Our bestest ever plumber, Bert THE Plumber said if we tiled the bathroom floor he'd put in a used toilet that we could use while we're working, so we found some great looking black marble tiles at Warehouse Surplus (609 Ohio Pike in Cincinnati, OH) for $2.39 per square foot and laid them out last weekend. We rented a wet tile saw (not as intimidating as I thought it would be - we didn't ruin a single tile in the cutting) and made the cuts, thinset the tiles in place, and I suspect by mid-afternoon, the guys can stop peeing in plastic bottles.

Of course, modesty will have to wait for the drywallwers, but anyone that pees in a plastic bottle really isn't that concerned about modesty in the first place, I always say.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Great Property

One of these properties is quite close to ours and I have been through it. I think it's a good house, with a yard and off street parking. In fact, I tried to buy it.

This home is two doors from Seminary Square Historic District. Close to Mainstrasse but far enough away so that noise isn't an issue. I-75 is only 5 blocks away which means again, close but far enough away from the noise. This is not many blocks from the river, and just a stone's throw from shopping, dining, and entertainment. One can walk most places one might need to go.

Don't take any of these prices as gospel either. It's often not a matter of how much, but a matter of "who." Make them an offer that makes sense to you and see what happens.

Covington Properties

Roger Bell or Rhonda Wood


Contact Roger Bell at 859-292-2188

If you are looking to buy and renovate and LIVE IN a great property at a great price in a great, happening neighborhood, check out 226. The city is all about creating owner occupied properties out of sound brick derelicts. And some aren't even derelicts. Many are much smaller projects than ours.

There are some financial incentives available, too. $6000 CARD Grant, Possible city financing help, and of course the $8,000 in federal money for first time home buyers.

These are better than foreclosures and could be fantastic investments. Plus, this is a great, convenient neighborhood.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Blog Surfin'

I was surfing for other Blogs that might give us some insight or at least camaraderie in spirit and I happened upon this one. I don't know these folks from Adam (and Eve), but they're butt-deep in a project of similar magnitude to ours.

I couldn't help but laugh when I saw this pic of the couple. The Missus has looked like this more than once in the past few months.

Here's a link. They seem like they're having the time of their lives.

Check it out.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

More Demo? No More Demo!

Just a quickie:

We had planned on taking down the plaster on the west wall, firring it, then spraying it with foam. We figured that we'd need the extra inch of elbow room.

Well, we got to thinking and looking. Two dangerous things, I suppose, but I noticed that in some places the plaster is quite thin. In fact, much of it is LESS than 1". So, how much space are we really going to save? Maybe 5/8"-3/4" on average.

I also noted that we've widened the stair cases anyway by tearing out the bead board and putting in a knee wall. Additionally, we also just REALLY widened the stairs up to the attic as well. When we stiffened the stringer on the first floor, too, that widened the elbow room 1.5" too. So, basically, If we put 1" of foam and 1/2" of drywall, we're a wash, with plenty of space to walk up the stairs.

DW is very pleased to not be tearing down plaster again, and pleased that we don't have to find a place to put it and pleased that we don't have to hire anyone to clean it up and move it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Roof Problem Solved

Just got a lengthy email from Benchmark Roofing. I skipped over the complaining part and got right to the meat. They are willing to deduct the $460 from the original bid so that we can pay someone else a little bit closer to home to fix the remaining items associated with the house.

I gotta say, although it's been a strained relationship, I think everything worked out ok in the end. We do have a good looking metal roof that doesn't leak which allowed us to move forward on the project that had been stalling us for months. I believe we got what we paid for and I'm satisfied we'll get the rest done in short order.

Moral of the story: When looking for contractors, try local first. Get references.

Addendum by DH:

I want to say that we got a very good deal on this roof, per se. I can also say that Benchmark was generous up front and didn't ask for any earnest money until the basic roof was on. At no time did I feel like I was at risk of getting ripped off in any way shape or form. Here's what I didn't like: I don't like a job that doesn't look good and pretty when it's done. I don't like not being told that things need to be done at the appropriate time during the job. If I need to cough up a little more to get it done right, I'll do it. I was perplexed that I wasn't told that facia work needed to be done to look good and wasn't included in the bid. I also don't like poor communication and an unwillingness to negotiate getting the job done right for more money.

That said, I think I can be a bit more charitable than DW. I think we COULD have had a better relationship on this job, and gotten something very close to what we wanted (i.e. a pretty roof installation), albeit for a few bucks more. Here's why:

We're not dumb and we've been doing a ton of research. We're also deliberate folks, by and large. We know something about this project and what we're doing and the materials used. We are also smart enough to know that you're begging for problems when a contractor is more than an hour away from you--in our case 2 hours away. We SHOULD have gone over the contract very carefully, with a fine toothed comb. We should have talked out the issues more fully with the roofer and gotten a very clear explanation/description of how he intended to finish the roof (i.e. what he intended to do with trim and rakes, downspouts, facia boards, etc.). This would have taken at least one more phone call at the desk and probably more and some further research. I probably should have snagged one of our rehabbin' neighbors or one of the city folks to look at the contract/bid too. Do these things. Really. You'll be glad you did.

Now, in our defense, we had a HECK of a job finding someone to even bid the job of putting on our spec'd metal roofing material. Meanwhile, the interest meter was running and more and more water was coming in. I spoke to lots of roofers, but only got other bids for shingles (which the city money couldn't go for). By the time Benchmark came down, I was desperate to get a roof on the place. I also couldn't remember what I talked about to whom. When I reviewed the contract I signed, I realized that it wasn't as clear as some of the other bids I'd gotten stuck in my head and I realized it didn't include some of the things I'd thought I'd discussed. So, when the price came in on target and I was told that the roof would be on in a couple weeks, I leaped at it without taking normal precautions.