Thursday, April 20, 2006

Thats a lotta Terra Cotta

We returned from our lovely Easter weekend visit to my Mother's house with a serious booty of Terra Cotta pots. The big beasts are h-e-a-v-y so we're not going to start planting until we finish cleaning and sealing the deck. Hopefully we'll finish the powerwashing this weekend.

I've been eyeing these outdoor vinyl faux oriental carpets from Mad Mats for over a year now and finally got one. So cool!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fun with Erosion

After dropping some serious coin at Lowes last weekend we've begun getting the outdoor space in shape. My new favorite toy is the Powerwasher. That thing kicks ass! The first thing we're tackling is the back deck. Furtunately we had the skanky Ghetto Jacuzzi removed by the seller leaving a bleak expanse of semi-painted wood backed with the concrete block garage. Not pretty. Well, it still isn't pretty but we're working on it.

We decided that painting the deck may not work...I'd rather not try to make something so large look like something that it's not. Also a pristine deck would look out of place. So we decided to go with the weathered look by stripping off the remaining paint and using a clear sealer/stain. I really thought the power washer would take off the paint but unfortunately the paint withstands the assault of the water jet better than than the wood does. That thing chews off a good amount of material. We tried pretreating with several cleansers then blasting, spot treating with paint remover then blasting, and just plain blasting on the highest setting. Plain old blasting worked best so we set to it.

You can see we did the left hand third of the deck. Now it almost blends in with the area that was covered by the Jacuzzi. The lower right hand third is untouched. Pretty cool. If we're goint to do it right we should rent a sander and give the whole thing a once over because the powerwasher does a number on the surface texture. We don't want to put too much into this because we figure the whole deck will need to be replaced in a few years anyhow.

So now we have to finish blasting, replace or patch some rotten spots, sand it (maybe), find a non-rainy weekend to seal it, get some outdoor rugs (I'm obsessed with Mad Mats), get the container gardening thing going, paint the garage door red, figure out what to do with the garage wall and fence colors, etc. Ugh!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

It's Starting to Happen

Spring is springing and we're getting ready to do some actual Home Improvements on the exterior. It's all about Concrete right now. The driveway is still busted up from the underground oil tank removal, the alley is busted up from the sewer line repairs. All these open wounds let plenty of water percolate down when it rains and we end up with the babbling brook in the basement. Basically the whole exterior looks shabby.

We were thinking of stone paving for the driveway and concrete for the other areas but now I've got Stamped Concrete on my mind. It may leave my mind when we get the price quotes in. If they can do stamped concrete that looks reasonably like old cobblestone for a reasonable price I'll be happy.

I've been taking measurements and working up CAD drawings like a maniac lately. Aside from planning the paving projects we're trying to figure out some landscaping. The back yard/deck is just 900 sq. ft. of barren and abused decking. We've got to get a whole powerwashing/sanding/patching/sealing process started back there pronto. Then there's the whole planting scheme coming together. Oy!

Luckily my Mother is in the Planter business. We're driving up Easter weekend to raid her basement for large Italian Terra Cotta pots, hehe. I'm also reading up on making my own planters from Hypertufa (a lighter weight, porous concrete that looks like old lava). For that matter I've been giving myself crash courses in gardening and paving in general. The Web is such a good thing.

Frankly it's all a bit overwhelming but I'm just breaking everything down and working through it. I can't properly manage expectations until I get more numbers from the various contractors and vendors involved. Available funds will be driving this boat and the Winter's heating costs among other things have reduced availability of said funds. We'll make it work. Hell, I am a designer but doing projects for myself with my own money is creepy. It's like designing a show that we have to live in.

Let the fun begin!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Beast's Second Feeding: Sewer Line!

Yech, this one may be a setback in overcoming my fear of plumbing. On a snowy Sunday in December I went to the basement for something and noticed the remnants of a stream of water on the floor. Water down there is not unusual during a heavy rain but this was snow. Well, being in snowy Sunday state of mind I switched directly into denial mode and went about my business. The next morning I went down to do some laundry and noticed more water and...stuff, papery stuff. And it stank. I thought maybe the wax wing on the first floor toilet had blown but it wasn't that simple. After some investigation I realized that everything that we flushed was going down the drain pipe, out through the Bluestone wall of the basement, and then back in through the wall around the pipe.

I called a general contractor I'd had in a few weeks before to get an estimate on a paving project to get a referral for a plumber. Surprisingly I got him to come out that day and have a look. My worst fear was confirmed : a cracked sewer line. He had to call the contractor as well because he would need to do the digging. We scheduled the 2 teams for the next day pending no more snow. Fortunately there was no snow the next day so they came in to break up the nice flagstone paving on that side of the house and manually dig a 5 foot deep by seven foot long by 3 foot wide trench through the sodden heavy clay soil to expose the broken clay pipe. Clay pipe! It looked like a Roman ruin down there.

Anyhow by the end of the day we had a new section of PVC pipe down there and another unpaved area around the foundation to deal with in the Spring. A nice $1600 Christmas gift for the house. It's going to mighty busy around here this Spring!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Overcoming the Fear of Plumbing

It's not that I have fear of pipes and fixtures, it's an anxiety about fixing problems with them. It probably comes from a time when I was a kid in the crazy old (1870s Victorian) house I grew up in. I was turning a shut-off valve under the bathroom sink only to have it break off and start spewing everywhere. I can't think of why I was turning the valve...always being the tinkering type I was probably just messing around with it. Maybe it's just my nature that I have no fear of messing around with anything electrical, mechanical or biological, but the thought of "wet work" like plumbing with it's attendant bloody knuckles and foul smells simply makes me uneasy.

Anyhow, there are several plumbing issues we knew would have to be taken care of when we moved in 2 months ago: the spray hose in the kitchen sink has a leak so we have to leave the sprayer lying down in the sink because it will drip down under the sink when positioned in its mount, the dishwasher didn't work - apparently because the copper tubing supply line had a big crimp, the downstairs toilet apparently has a bad wax wing.

A month or so ago, wanting to get a worst-case scenario of what it would cost to have someone do this work (worst-cost scenario as I call it) I called "Mister Rooter" as seen on TV to come give an estimate. The estimate was far higher than I'd have guessed so we're like "Screw that, we'll do it ourselves".

Last weekend, with Thanksgiving dinner for 8 approaching, we decided to tackle the kitchen plumbing items. I'd bought a new sprayer assembly at Lowes (that place is so dangerous) and we figured we'd tackle that first since it seemed the easiest. No matter what we tried we couldn't get the old hose disconnected. Of course the connection is in the most awkward spot right at the base of the faucet. No combination of wrenches and vise grips in that tight space would give us a good grip to unscrew it. After an hour of cursing and bleeding knuckles we gave up and moved on to the dishwasher.

I'd bought a 60 inch dishwasher flex hose in the same "just got a house" shopping spree as the sprayer hose, huge gas grille of my dreams, air conditioners and randow pieces and parts. So we pulled the old girl out from under the counter, yanked out the battered copper supply line, hooked up the flex line, turned the dial to Wash and got nothing but a click and a hum. Fie! It looks like a bad solenoid valve. Now, that dishwasher was no great loss. It was outmoded and dirty on the outside and alarmingly filthy on the inside, especially for a machine that's suppsed to make things clean.

Fortunately we had a backup: When we moved in, the sellers had left a lot of stuff in the garage along with the cut-up remains of the derelict Jacuzzi in the back yard. I had them pick up all the junk but kept a fairly new looking dishwasher as a consolation prize. On closer examination last weekend it looked as though that machine had its wiring brutally cut at an odd point so we admitted defeat for the day.

The next morning I went to look online for the manual for the skanky old Kenmore only to find that Sears doesn't seem to offer these things online. That's ridiculous! I found the manuals for the Frigidaire model in the garage in about 3 seconds. With the manuals on-screen I quickly realized that all I needed to do was splice a few wires into the junction box and we'd be good to go. Off to the hardware store for wire! After an hour or so of digression to map out all the circuit breakers in the house we hooked up that puppy, hit the start button and heard good things happening in there. As we prepared to slide the machine back under the counter we realized that the flexline was too short so off to plumbing supply store for a 72" one.

So we got it all in place and ran it through a cycle only to realize that the supply for the dishwasher was welded to the cold water line. WHY??!!! Off to a different plumbing supply house for a T-connecter. Finally, a working dishwasher!

This is all a long way of saying we're thrilled we fixed it ourselves (and saved some coin), my fear of plumbing is fading, I need to buy more tools, and having a Dishwasher after a Thanksgiving dinner for 8 is a very good thing!

We'll fix that damn sprayer even if we have to pull out the whole faucet to do it! The thought of changing the wax ring on the toilet still makes me queasy though.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Beast's 1st Feeding - Roof

A month into being here we got our first taste of things to come. Last week we had freakish Monsoon-like rains for a solid 7 days. The first thing we noticed was the re-appearance of a leak in the dormer of the bedroom. Its a leak that sprung up after our initial inspection in the Spring thus wasn't part of our contract rider but was verbally promised would be fixed. Well they fixed the inside nicely but didn't seem to do a damn thing about the cause of the leak outside. The Monsoons were the first real rain we've had in months thus the little waterfall in the bedroom.

Later we noticed a less localized leak in the pantry, near the dry goods of course. Then going down to the basement we saw the Babbling Brook running diagonally across thge center of the floor. I've always wanted a "water feature" but these aren't what I had in mind. I realized there was nothing I could do at the moment about the leaks except call roofers. I called 6 roofers in the area and didn't hear back from a single one! Anyhow I turned my attention to the basement and soon realized that most of the downspouts (or whatever the last part of the gutter system that discharges onto the ground are called) were pouring water directly onto the foundation so we did a run to Lowes and bought These flexspout things and other gutter accessories. These actually worked for the most part! However the French drains in the basement were still being overwhelmed by water coming in from one corner. It may be runoff from the yard (we're on a hill) but since the whole yard is decked I can't tell. We'll have to solve this mystery later.

Last Friday I finally got a call back from one of the roofers. He'd given me an estimate a few months ago on fixing some other roof issues (we'll have to deal with those sooner or later) and stopped by Saturday to have a look and work up a price. We scheduled the work for today which was fine until the forecast called for rain again starting today! Fortunately it held off long enough to get the job done.

The true test will start along with the next rains.

It's kinda funny how from the camera angles reveals a little Virgin Mary where the Satellite Dish was. I really need to figure out how to get photos to appear where I want them

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

We're In!.

We closed last Wednesday and moved the following day. Quite a whirlwind this last week. Just got the DSL up yesterday. I'll start posting again shortly.

Friday, September 02, 2005

What do you get when you take the O-I-L out of SOIL

Good news is what you get! The main hold-up in closing on this house has been an old oil tank under the driveway. It’s a long tedious story that I’ll go into some other time. The tank was removed along with a good amount of surrounding soil and the area was tested for contamination. We got the soil test results back from the lab yesterday and they came back clean so now we can get on with our lives and get ouselves into the house.

The current theory is that we’ll be in by September 15….finally!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Pack it up or pack it in?

David & John came over for a little packing party on Sunday. Damn, we've got a lot of crap. We purged quite a bit about a year ago but I see a yard sale in our near future. One thing we won't be packing are the fish. We decided that the dog and cat (pictured) are quite enough to deal with and the fish tank is something we can do without for a while.

So I flushed them, kidding!! I "donated" the fish back to the pet shop today. Now we'll have an actual basement where we can keep things like old fish tanks, cool! What we should really do is put the fish tank up at the yard sale so the basement doesn't become full of things like old fish tanks.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Special Delivery for Labor Day?

It's looking like we may indeed be able to close and move in by the end of this month! It wasn't looking that way 2 days ago. Yeah!!!

Monday, August 15, 2005

I'd Like To...Think about the Kitchen

I guess I’ve got to say something about the Kitchen. The electric stove has been swapped out for a gas stove. I’ve no idea what kind. I like those new Dual Fuel ranges that have double ovens (one smaller above a regular size) in one unit.

The cabinets aren’t great but I think we can make do for a while with some stripping and refinishing. There are certainly plenty of them. I think some of the drawers are in rough shape though. We’ll have to find a kitchen table for the middle of the room I guess. Imagine that…a kitchen table!

I’d like to look into one of those greenhouse like additions that the sliding door would lead into. Something big enough to keep herbs and such going through the Winter. We’ve been reading magazines like The Family Handyman which is much better than the title suggests and not at all hokey.

I’d Like To…Pantry

The Kitchen as a whole is too big a topic to even go into at this point. Though I do know that I want an island someday and there’s enough room for a nice layout. Anyhow I’m looking forward to having the pantry. It’s a freaky mess right now and I’m wondering if a thorough cleanup will be enough or if we should dive right in and re-do the shelving. Maybe a nice Elfa system.

I’d Like To…Flooring, Built-Ins

Somewhere under all of this ceramic tile (it only looks like vinyl) is a wood floor…we think. Friends think they know a contractor who did a lot of the work on the place so we’ll be asking him. A real wood floor would be nice.

The built-in cabinets in the dining room are pretty cheesy. I might be able to live with them for a while if we cut off the scrolley bits on top and get rid of the mirror. We don’t have a sideboard or anything to keep dining room stuff in (hell, never had a dining room before) so we might as well us them. Then again if we’re going to paint we should probably get rid of them now. We’ll see.

Oh, have I mentioned we haven’t closed on the house yet? That’s a story I’ll tell later. This blog is all for fantasy at least for a few more weeks.

I’d Like To…Fireplace, Color

The Living Room fireplace is closed off. The furnace and hot water heaters are directly below so it looks like the chimney was repurposed to vent those. I’m told it can be rejiggered to handle both the ventilation and fire burning. Ron would like that a lot.

More immediately it’s all about Color. After living in rentals forever we’ve always had White walls. There’s something to be said for white walls but half the fun of owning a house is dressing it up. I’m big on shades of Teal in the dining room at the moment. I’ll have to go spend some time at ColourLovers and work up some palettes.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

I'd Like To...Garage Wall

The heinous gazebo/Jacuzzi should be gone by now and the deck patched. I’d like to clean up the deck. It was wet when this was shot so it looks extra awful. It had been painted at some point but most of it has peeled off. I’d like to strip and restore it. Not that I know the right way to do that. I’d also like to do something interesting with the garage wall. The Blue on cinderblock isn’t doing it for me. I’m thinking of painting a mural (gradient, skyline, tumbledown cottage).

More recently I’m thinking about a really slick trellis system, backlit with color changing LED of course. There’s this beautiful scrolley high finish metal I’ve seen. Scaryily expensive. Something Moorish could be nice too…modern Alhambra.

Then there’s a few mirrored mosaic ideas bouncing around my head.

The House

After seeing a dozen properties or so we were liking a newly restored triplex townhouse condo in our neighborhood of choice. It was sweet but its best feature was the winding central staircase topped with a skylight. Unfortunately the floors and rooms it connected were all fairly small. At max. 14’ wide the place felt a bit close even without furniture. The place was already all it can be.

We put in an offer but kept looking around until Ron spotted a listing we couldn’t resist. “Renovated one family on large corner lot. Detached one car garage plus 2 additional spots in driveway. Private yard with deck and Jacuzzi. Five minute walk from Light Rail. 2 Blocks from park.” When we saw it, we just KNEW.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Backstory – 3

Now, this whole concept of moving off the island is weighty indeed. Carrie from Sex and the City’s snobbish reaction to Miranda moving to Brooklyn is not uncommon. If Miranda had moved to Jersey...horrors! The fact of the matter is that you do get a little house-proud just by dint of living in Manhattan, even if you live in a hovel. I moved to New York City to live in Manhattan, not Brooklyn or Queens and certainly not New Jersey! I’m getting over it though.

I fully expect we’ll go through some degree of culture shock. You get very used to having all sorts of things at your fingertips and the idea of having to suffer the indignity of inconvenience is frightening. I’m getting over it though.

Being a Foodie I know I’m going to be freaked at first. I’m very used to the little circuit of specialty markets I have at hand here in HK. We scouted the neighborhood and were happy to see that Central Avenue, just 4 blocks away, is lined with several farmer’s markets, a few Italian markets, butchers and bakeries, and every sort of Latino shop. I still haven’t found any Asian markets but I’m sure there’s one. Then there’s a huge new ShopRite supermarket just down the elevator in Hoboken. I’ve just learned that most restaurants in the area don’t deliver, or there’s a charge if they do! I don’t know if I’ll get over that one.

The Backstory - 2

We called our old friend Sara, who got out of television and into real estate a few years ago to show us some things in her area which is centered in Hoboken NJ. Having not been over to Hoboken in well over 10 years I wasn’t expecting much but it’s come a long way and is now really cute. Again an area that’s too cute…translating to too expensive.

After looking at various multi families, single families and condos in the area Sara showed us a condo in Jersey City Heights. We liked the neighborhood immediately. It’s sort of a diamond in the rough in that it’s a middle classish neighborhood with its share of issues. However its proximity to Manhattan and the saturation and rising prices of Hoboken and downtown Jersey City coupled with a new Light Rail line have made it very appealing lately. Fortunately for us The Heights still seems to be something of a secret…at least to us Manhattanites.

The Backstory - 1

In March of this year we learned that the vacant commercial space on the ground floor of our building, directly below our apartment, may be slated to become a “Bar with light finger food”. That was the last sign we needed to show that our neighborhood has gotten too cute for our own good. So after some 13 years of living in Hell’s Kitchen, a neighborhood that’s gone from gritty to glossy, it’s time to move on and up.