Tag Archives: DIY

Boy’s Room Makeover, with Octophant

Our son’s birthday is right after Christmas. This typically results in Too Many Gifts, especially because he’s the only grandchild in our section of the family. My wife had the great thought of giving his room an overhaul instead of simply buying him regular birthday presents, and he was excited about the idea.

He was turning nine and we hadn’t altered the decor of his room in years. It was babyish and messy, with random stuff all over the walls, a bad layout, and an uncomfortable color scheme. Here it is beforehand (but after the mess had been cleaned out and piled in the hall):

before1

before2

I built him the pteranodon before he was born. He wanted that to stay.

He asked for a room that felt more grownup, and we wanted to make changes we could easily adapt for future rearrangements or needs. We also wanted to do it on a modest budget. After measuring the room and drawing up half a dozen plans, we found one that worked.

The bed would go partially into that unused closet, and the dresser would stand alongside it, between the bed and the door, with a short bookcase on top. This would give him plenty of clothes and knickknack storage space, and would create a defensive wall between him and the outside world, which of course would be totally rad at any age. I’d build another bookcase for the back corner, where he could arrange his Hardy Boys collection and various necessary items. He’d have a reading chair with a side table. His electric guitar would be accessibly displayed. And to cozy everything up, we’d paint the room a rich chocolate brown, with a highlight of dark orange in the old closet.

First I built the bookcases:

shelf1

shelf2

My wife painted the room and we put it all together. Our son bought a cheap artificial ficus tree at the local craft store (we were gathering materials for a Leif Ericsson helmet; more on that another day) and thought it would lend the bed nook an excellent forested quality. We gave The Improbable Octophant prime placement on the wall. The arrangement and color scheme made the room remarkably warmer, and he’s been terribly happy with the result. Our dog Bones likes it, too, and is more inclined to visit at night.

after

 

after2

 

 

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Death of a Mudroom

We had this mudroom off the back of our house that caused a lot of problems. The room was approximately 5×8 and was useful as a place to store garden supplies and the like, but as is often the case with such a room, it frequently became the depository of every damn thing we couldn’t find a spot for.

The righthand wall blocked the view of our yard from the kitchen, and because of the way it was positioned, it made our deck seem smaller than it is.

It also served as a buffer between the yard and the actual house, so the elements hit the mudroom instead of the backdoor, and we could leave our dirty shoes there instead of tracking mud or snow into the kitchen. But then the elements started to win. The roof grew patches of moss and began to leak; a gust of wind blew a window out of its frame, which window almost struck a visiting 6-year-old before it shattered on the floor; the outer door broke and could only be replaced with a costly custom door; and the whole structure had a growing wobble, slight but unnerving, whenever we walked outside.

Last and most irksome, carpenter ants had moved into the walls and were eating the structure from the inside out. When I pried off the drywall, I revealed not only the sawdusty frass of previous colonies but a pair of active egg mounds. The eggs are sticky white, like over-boiled rice, and if I remember my research correctly, they’ll linger there over the winter and hatch the following year. Since the usual ant poisons don’t affect the eggs, carpenter ants are hard to eradicate; even if you kill the current year’s colony, there’s always another nest waiting in the wings.

Not this time! As soon as I opened the drywall, the living ants panicked and began to carry the eggs to safer ground. Before they could properly mobilize, I scooped the eggs with a dust pan and tied them into a plastic bag. Next I poured boiling water on the rest of the ants and eggs that were hiding out of reach, and then, just as a few weary survivors were having an emergency meeting under the floor, I went forward with my plan to destroy their precious mudroom forever.

I called on a friend who’s good at this kind of thing to help me avoid killing myself or destroying the back of the house during demolition. I ordered a 12-yard dumpster and we tore it down piece by piece two Saturdays ago. The decrepit state of the mudroom made it harder to wreck, as it happened, because we had to be careful that portions wouldn’t collapse at a dangerous moment, and we often needed leverage using boards that we too rickety or rotten to provide it.

Along the way, we discovered that the mudroom was really the enclosure of an earlier shingled awning with wooden supports. The original support posts were mostly intact inside a shell of cheap outer wood, and I’m keeping them now until I figure out some way to repurpose them.

Another discovery was the quality of old pine. Our house was built in the late 40s, when pine was nicer and stronger than the cheap-o stuff you generally find at Home Depot. There were places where water and ants had disintegrated the newer wood but left the original pine — which wasn’t pressure-treated back then — completely intact. And the old 2x4s were actual 2x4s, and not the smaller nominal size of 1 1/2″ by 3 1/2″. It was manly wood, from a manlier era.

The entire mudroom was barely connected to the house, which meant there was minimal damage to the outer wall when we removed it. A lot of the cedar shakes were missing where the roof met the house, but we replaced those with new shakes and I painted them all the following day. The paint I used was matched to the sunbleached color that surrounded the former mudroom, but sadly, color-matching isn’t an exact science, even with those fancy computer matchers at paint stores. So now we have a slightly darker Ghost of the Mudroom on the back wall. It’s less glaring in person; my camera exaggerates the contrast (see the final photo below).

The old mudroom floor is still there at the footprint. I’ll need to tear that up and replace the boards so it matches the rest of the deck. I’m installing a new storm door, now that the kitchen door leads directly to the yard. I also need an electrician to rewire the backyard light, and I’m going to put up a metal awning so we’ll have some cover when it rains or snows.

It’s incredible how much the view and even the yard itself has opened up since the mudroom’s removal. I owe my friend Kurt a full day of tiring labor on one of his future projects, along with a replacement set of Sawzall blades that he ruined cutting through the tarry old roof shingles.

Epilogue: today I saw a single lonesome carpenter ant scurrying aimlessly around the deck. I allowed it a moment of solemn remembrance, then squished it with my fingers.

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The Eggplant of Salvation

Hey remember when I couldn’t fix the shower and wrote about it here and here? Summary of my frustration:

  1. The tub spout leaked
  2. I replaced the knobs and guts; the spout leak stopped
  3. But then the middle knob that sends the water to either the bathtub spout or the showerhead leaked
  4. I needed to replace the inner diverter, but no one sells the right-sized part anymore
  5. I cleaned the current part and did everything right and the knob itself stopped leaking but then…
  6. Whenever we ran water to the tub spout, water backed up in the pipes and also came out the shower head
  7. Gravity is supposed to prevent this; my enemy was physics
  8. I couldn’t understand why it was happening and gave up
  9. Lost hope, rending of garments

Regular readers will now remember the recent Eggplant Incident in which my darling wife put the troublesome vegetable into the garbage disposal, from whence it traveled and clogged in a pipe just below the earlier-described bathtub and filled said tub with hideous gray dishwasher/eggplant water. As I could not easily access the clog with traditional tools, I used Power Plumber, a can of compressed gas that you blast into the drain to jolt the clog. It worked beautifully.

Now yesterday: I had a handyman coming to do some electric work and was prepared to mention the shower-diverter conundrum. Before he arrived, I tested the shower again and lo and behold, the problem had completely remedied itself. How was this possible??

We owe it to the eggplant, it seems. My wife encouraged me to blog about this (while I was giving her a neck rub) in the hope of repairing her eggplanty reputation. I happily comply.

My theory. There must have been a partial blockage in the pipe below the tub/shower. This blockage prevented the drain water from flowing as intended, which resulted in a very slight backup, which resulted in the water rising up the pipe and leaking out the showerhead. Along came the eggplant to jam at the partial blockage. When I cleared the pipe entirely with Power Plumber, the drain water flowed at full capacity, the pipe stopped backing up, and the shower leak abated. So it seems I fixed the diverter correctly all those weeks ago and didn’t know it.

If not for the eggplant, we might have lost hundreds of dollars as the handyman attempted to solve the mystery and found himself similarly baffled. So hat’s off to the exquisite Mrs. Mahoney putting forbidden “fibrous material” down the garbage disposal. We have our second shower back.

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Sanded!

That was fun. Surprisingly few complications along the way. Makes that old blue countertop look extra crapola!

(I’ll deal with you eventually, old blue crapola-top.)

BEFORE

AFTER

 

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Tearing up the Kitchen Floor

Band-Aid Linoleum

I ripped up two layers of linoleum and plywood from our kitchen floor to reveal the original hardwood, which I’m planning to refinish. Under the current white linoleum was a sheet of plywood, and then a horrific band-aid colored linoleum on top of more plywood.

The topmost layer of plywood was stapled down. I tapped a nail set under each slightly raised staple in order to raise it more, then pliered them up. Every staple took a serious yank. There were about 400 of them. In spite of leather gloves, I had half-a-dozen blisters.

Filthy Hardwood

The second layer of plywood was secured with nails…spiral nails, in fact, which grab the floor like gangbusters. When I crowbarred that second layer of plywood up, all of those nails were conveniently 1/4″ above the hardwood, ready to pull. But no. I hammered a bunch of them all the way in before realizing that a power sander, which’ll sand some of the floor right off, will start to catch upon those driven nails and rip the paper. There were about two dozen of these devils driven flush and I didn’t know what to do, until I checked Home Depot and sure enough, there’s a tool for just such an occasion. I’m pleased to say that all of the nails are out and I’m ready to sand.

My Friend, the Nail Pull

The drum sander I rented must weigh 150 pounds. I could barely get it into the car, and then I had to carry it up three sets of outdoor steps into our house. Perilous business. But I am thankfully uninjured and the sander’s in the dining room, ready for action tomorrow morning.

Stay tuned. I’m bound to do something stupid once I have it running.

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