Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another garden bed bites the dust (so our backporch doesn't)

The previous owners built a small, raised garden bed right alongside our three-season porch. There are two problems with this. First, the soil line is above the poured concrete slab, right alongside the untreated wood of the porch, without any barrier, which has caused the wood to rot. Second, the porch is not structurally sound, and even without the rot issues, it would still be a bit of a precarious structure. 

Justin removed and leveled the garden bed, and then added pressure-treated lumber to reinforce the porch for the time being. We plan to redo the porch at some point, but we would like it to stay standing until we decide to take it down! 

I transplanted some of the herbs (chives, oregano) and perennials (echinacea)

We gave all these landscape bricks to a neighbor.

Justin pries off some of the old wood planks to see what's underneath.

And underneath, a rag-tag pile of scraps holding the porch up!

This small pile of wood was all that was holding up a section of the porch!


I forgot to mention that we also rerouted our dryer vent a while back. It had been venting directly underneath the porch, which not only meant there was a ridiculous amount of lint under our porch, but also that the windows would become covered with condensation any time we used the dryer. In winter, of course, this condensation would freeze. Not so good. But now the dryer actually vents outside the house like it's supposed to!

The new, improved dryer vent (it's the little things in life...)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Basement Windows get a Makeover, part 2

In our last post, we talked about removing and installing the easier of the two new basement windows. Next up, the much more challenging second window!

Before: Window 2

But what did we discover when we started digging? A huge slab of concrete underneath the entire window! Why anyone would put such a thing there, we'll never know. But it does help explain why the flooding was the worst under this window: the water was just sitting on the slab, soaking into the rotting wood of the window frame.

The mysterious concrete slab

Of course, instead of just digging, this meant that we had to bust up and remove all the concrete before we could do anything else.

Removing the concrete pad.

Sayonara, concrete! 

The window after the concrete pad was removed

Once the concrete was removed, we could finally begin cutting out the windows themselves. As badly rotted as the windows were, they were still a pain to remove.

Justin cuts out the window frames.

View from inside.
Way more concrete than the last one.
Because the window is an irregular size and we didn't want to bother with a custom window, we decided to fill in part of the opening with cinder blocks and concrete.

Levelling up the cinder blocks

First layer in, mortar bed for the second layer laid down.

Window time! 

After: Window 2. Much better!

Next up; raised beds...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Basement Windows get a Makeover, part 1

Summer has flown by, and for the most part, we haven't done any large-scale house projects--a welcome break. But now it's time to delve into another project.

We want to avoid the flooding we had last spring, so we're doing a number of things to address it. To start with, we replaced the old, rotting wood window frames with new, glass brick windows. We also installed window wells where there had been none before. Sounds pretty easy, but there were a lot of steps involved.  

Before: Window 1

Cutting out the old window with a sawzall

First, we had to remove the old window and cut out the old frame.

Uneven foundation that had been hiding beneath the window
We discovered that the foundation wall beneath the old window was very uneven. As in, cracked and pockmarked. We'd have to fix that before installing the new window...

Forms to hold cement in place. Note the beginning of the hole for the window wells. 
...So we decided to add a layer of quick-setting cement.

Expand, foam, expand! 
To keep the concrete from running out the cracks we used expanding foam.

Does watched cement ever dry? 
Justin poured the cement and made sure it was level, then made sure if was dry before moving on to the next step.

Mortar, viewed from inside. 
Next, we laid the mortar bed that would hold in the new window.

After: Window 1. Ta da!
Finally, Justin slid the new window into place and finished mortaring around it while Brigitte stood on the other side, making sure it didn't fall inward and crash to the ground. No photos of this part since we were both occupied and Juniper was running around somewhere else. But here's the finished product! Doesn't it look much better?

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Kitchen Island

The Kitchen Island finally came together. Though much like anything else so far, there were some road bumps along the way. For starters, one of the smaller of the two cabinets was not made to the same specs as the larger one. The face frames matched up just fine, but the carcasses were not even close.

Level island on an uneven floor.  
The second issue was the floor. Even after all the work we did, the floor is still not perfectly level.  With some carpentry magic, we managed to make the bottom of the island presentable while keeping the top level.

The cabinet carcasses were mounted together with a 1/4" piece of sanded birch plywood sandwiched in between and attached with screws and wood glue.

After the main bit of carpentry was completed we oiled the butcher block with mineral oil, installed the garbage and recycling pull-outs and stained the cabinets.

All done before the family came over. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Adventures of the Pea Trellis


Part of Brigitte's ambitious gardening project involved tearing out this den of iniquity bed of noxious weeds. The last owners had tried growing veggies here--there were still tomato and pepper tags on the ground--and before that, there were evergreen shrubs, according to Google street view (and the massive roots I dug up!). 

Evergreen bushes in our yard, circa 2007
We eventually want to re-plant some evergreen shrubs here, but for now, it will do nicely as an early-season veggie bed. We want to plant peas here, which need something to climb, so we built an awesome trellis from scratch.

Weeds and a sapling tree stump: gone!
V is for "Victory Garden"

Justin and Junie build the pea trellis
We built the trellis out of cedar 2x2s and 2x4s, with eyehooks strung with twine for the peas to climb. The twine can be replaced every season or as needed. 

Stringing up twine for the peas to climb

Ta da! Finished pea trellis! Now to install it...

Justin secures the posts.

Isn't it lovely? It will be even lovelier once peas are growing on it. 

Brigitte poses in her gardening duds...

...and pretends to climb the trellis like a pea vine. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Prairie Street Craftsman!

It's official: we've been living here for a year!

Justin and Brigitte a year ago--happy new homeowners!
It's difficult to sum up an entire year in a few words. It's been challenging, exhilarating, frustrating...and overall, rewarding. We've both been able to do things we've always wanted to do. We've also had to stretch ourselves to do things we were less comfortable with. We've solved problems and made compromises. We've knocked down walls and ripped up floors.

Don't try this at home (unless you're Justin)

Ask Brigitte how much she loves scraping wallpaper.

Last year at this time, we were scraping wallpaper and patching walls in one house while packing up and cleaning in another. We had way too many things to do and not enough time to do it. And yet, we managed to get most things done, and live with the things we didn't finish (like...oak trim that is STILL waiting to be rehung).

Who needs tools when you have a karate chop?

Right now, we're putting the finishing touches on a remodeled kitchen and starting on several ambitious gardening and landscaping projects. We have way too many things to do and not enough time to do it! But I have a feeling we'll manage it once again.

Some of the things we've accomplished this year:
1. Shopped for and purchased a house (duh)!
2. Revamped the walls: stripped wallpaper, repaired patches of lathe plaster, replaced really bad areas with new drywall, painted everything
3. Replaced the dining room ceiling
4. Remodeled the kitchen: designed a new layout, replaced the wood floor with tile, replaced part of the subfloor, replaced and replumbed the sink, took out a window, installed new cabinets and countertops, installed a built-in microwave, built a butcher top island
5. Rewired the entire electrical system: removed dangerous, outdated knob and post wiring, installed a new breaker box, added and replaced all outlets, installed outlets in the attic
6. Gardening: dug and planted new garden beds, replaced overgrown or undesirable landscaping with new, beautiful perennials (and tomatoes)
7. Revented the dryer
8. Kept our basement from flooding (too badly)
9. Insulated the attic

All this while we both got new jobs and Junie went from first to second grade.

Happy 2nd-grader playing with bubble wrap (don't ask)

Here are some of the things we have planned for this year (actually, more like the next 6 months):
1. Major landscaping to address flooding issue (grade part of the backyard, install drain tile, build some retaining walls)
2. Build a large shed Justin can use as a woodshop instead of the garage
3. Grow lots of vegetables on 300+ square feet of new garden beds. Can/preserve excess.
4. Finish insulating attic; drywall and replace floor
5. Finish up kitchen remodel
6. Address wall issues upstairs
7. Revamp plumbing (yep, all of it)

Oh, and guess what else? We're engaged!

Engaged! We even have a ring (Justin's grandmother's) to prove it

When are we going to find time to plan a wedding amidst all these other projects?! We're crazy--but that's how we like it.
Crazy kids.

Stay tuned for our progress over the next year!