Basement games area before & after

I went waaaay back in the archives to start writing this post, and wow, that all feels like a lifetime ago. In some ways, I guess it is.

There is one space left in the basement that I still have not shared in its final finished version. Mostly because it was not finally finished. Oh those last little details can drag on.

In the 14th post that I published on this blog (#14! Just a month after we moved in! This post is #1,043!), I shared my plans for the basement renovation. I included this picture and wrote: “Sarah Richardson is known for putting a full size table in her family rooms as a spot for games, work, crafts or dining. I think that’s a great idea and we’ve got the space for one, so that’s on the list too.”

And here’s how our version turned out.

Games area in the basement

But before we jump into the details of the finished space, here’s how this spot looked when we first bought the house (after we’d cleared out a lot of the previous owners’ stuff).

The basement before

We knew we didn’t want the cabinets and work stations (I have no idea what they were used for). And with them gone, this became a big open area, right at the base of the stairs.

If you’ve been around here for awhile, you may recall that we not only removed the cabinets. We also removed the carpet and all of the drywall.

The exterior drywall came down so that we could reframe, rewire and reinsulate.

Spray foam insulation

The ceiling drywall came down so that we could find all of the hidden junction boxes and fix the electrical.

Burnt junction box

Sorry for the bad early days photo. This junction box was actually burned inside, hence the black.

Then we drywalled, painted, trimmed and carpeted. We eventually moved in some furniture and added a light fixture. Then, over the last year, I finally tackled the bare walls.

Hanging the playing card posters was Matt’s last DIY in this house. We did it almost exactly a year ago. And a couple of weeks ago, I hung the tic-tac-toe game and styled the top of the cabinet.

Games area in the basement

With that the games (crafting, work, etc.) area is officially done.

I’ll be sharing more details on this space next week. You know everything has a story with me.

Do you have an extra table space somewhere in your house? What’s your longest running DIY? Where do you usually stall in room makeovers? If you don’t stall, what’s your secret, please?

A new door for an old barn

The driveshed (aka our small barn) got a spruce up last week. A new garage door.

The existing garage door had always been a bit of a beast. Heavy. Didn’t slide very well. It pretty much always took my full body weight to close it, and even then I couldn’t always get it latched. (I feel like the driveshed looks particularly sad in this picture.)

Broken garage door on the small barn

Perhaps because I used so much force as I pulled it down, the bottom of the door started to fall apart this year. As in the whole lower panel started to come off. Then the roller went crooked and I could barely move the door.

Being me, I thought, “I can fix this.”

I bashed at the roller until I finally broke it off the door.

Garage door with a broken roller

As I looked at the splitting, rotted, old wood, I said, “I’m going to spend days Mickey Mousing around with this and still have an old door.”

Ellie said, “Mickey Mouse? Where mouse?”

It took me a couple of weeks more to accept that I needed to order a new door, but I got there eventually.

Pushing the lawn mower and wheelbarrow around all of the detritus in the driveshed, through all of Ellie’s toys, past the garbage and recycling bins and bumping out the person-size door was not fun.

But no more. The new door was installed last week.

Installing a new garage door on the small barn

Installing a new garage door on the small barn

It slides up and down and latches, exactly as a garage door is supposed to. Even on an old barn that’s saggy and terribly out of square. (But a bit less sad looking now, I think.)

New garage door on the small barn

So long, sunroom

On the very first day we owned the farm, we had no heat and no hot water. It was the beginning of March. In Canada. Not warm.

When it came time for lunch, we retreated to the one and only room that felt somewhat comfortable: the sunroom. Thanks to glass roof and walls, it was warm. Though that was about all it had going for it.

Inside the sunroom

The panes of glass in the roof looked shattered (it was just a film). The carpeted floor was filthy.

Shattered windows in the sunroom

Moss growing inside the sunroom

Over the past 8 years, the sunroom has deteriorated even further. The only times I used it were in cool weather when I needed a workshop. I didn’t care about making the room messy, and it kept the mess or fumes out of the house.

We never had plans to fix the sunroom. All along we’ve wanted to get rid of it. And last weekend, we finally did.

Demoing the sunroom

I had been prepping for a couple of weeks. A friend and her two kids had helped me empty the room, remove one of the patio doors, cut down the overgrown brush around the outside and take off the exterior siding. I had taken out the baseboard heaters and the interior paneling.

Demoing the sunroom

As each piece came out, I got to see just how disgusting the sunroom was. There were rot and ants and disintegrated insulation and mossy carpet. It. Was. Gross.

And now it is gone.

A bunch of cousins showed up last weekend, and we carefully took out all the glass. After a few cuts with the sawzall, the rafters and frames were gone too.

Demoing the sunroom

Demoing the sunroom

The glass is in the barn in case I want to build a greenhouse someday. The metal is in the trailer to go to the charity bin at a local special needs riding school. I burnt the wood over the weekend–one of our biggest fires ever. The wee bit of garbage all fit in the trunk of my car and went to the dump last week.

Demoing the sunroom

Demoing the sunroom

The roof needs some patching (I’ve bent some flashing to cover any openings for now) and I’d like to remove the concrete slab, but those are (hopefully) next year’s projects. For now, I’m thrilled to have the main eyesore gone.

Demoing the sunroom

Demoing the sunroom

In this year with so much change and uncertainty, it feels really, really good to complete one house project. Especially one that’s been on the list for so long. Matt and I have a vision for this house, and I’m working toward that, ever so slowly.

Upgrading our leaky hot water tanks to fibreglass

“So you find that ominous puddle of water beneath your hot water heater. As you thoughtfully mop up the floor, … you are faced with one of two courses of action. The first, and… most soul-satisfying action would be to tear the unit bodily from the fittings and heave it lustily into the trash heap. But as your arms flex under this thought stimulus, you question your physical ability to perform this feat with all the zest and spontaneity the occasion requires. After all you are not as young and husky as you once were.”

Alfred J. Taylor in Popular Home Craft, February 1945

I received a copy of this magazine over the weekend, and it contained the article “Make That Water Heater Last.” The article talks of the demands of the Second World War and the impossibility of finding a plumber or buying a new heater when the old one starts to leak. It gives practical advice about how to “fortify your resolve” and “fix it yourself and make do.”

But beyond all of that, it is so well-written. The sentences are beautiful and funny. I couldn’t resist borrowing some of Alfred J. Taylor’s words to start this blog post, even if we did not have to make do when our “faithful old tank[s]” started to leak last year.

I’ve scanned the whole article to share it with you, in case you want a glimpse into home repair circa 1945 (don’t miss the last line… or the last two paragraphs… you know what? Just read the whole thing).

When we moved to the farm, we upgraded pretty much every system in the house. As part of our new geothermal heating and cooling system, we got two new hot water tanks. But within a few months of installing them, our hot water got super stinky. We didn’t want to shower it was so bad.

After a bit of online research I was able to figure out that the anodes in the tanks had likely become home to some malodorous bacteria. We decided to have the anodes removed, and our odor problems went away.

But a new problem arose. Without the anodes, the tanks were more susceptible to rust and likely wouldn’t last as long.

Last summer, we noticed some seepage around the bottom of the tanks. They had lasted just over 7 years before rusting out.

Leaking hot water tank

We started investigating our options and getting quotes.

Ultimately, we decided to go with one of the options our geothermal company had offered when they were fixing our stinky water issues: two new anode-less fiberglass tanks.

Rheem Marathon hot water heaters

Not the cheapest solution, but hopefully the longest lasting one.

(For those asking, “What about tankless?” I don’t like tankless water heaters. I’ve used them a few places and the water never gets hot enough for me. I like my showers to be scalding. Also, our geo system generates some excess heat, which is captured by our dual tank system, so we feel like we’re pretty efficient and environmentally friendly right now.)

I often joke that we have a science experiment in our utility room between the water treatment system and the geothermal. Now we have two spacecraft as well with these capsule shaped tanks.

(And for Mr. Taylor, with his iron cement and assorted wrenches, thank you for your encouraging, educational and entertaining article.)

Repair, don’t replace, your broken vinyl window

Vinyl windows have a good reputation for being low maintenance and energy efficient. However, they sometimes get a bad rap for longevity–as in they only last so long before they have to be replaced. Wood window aficionados will talk about how their windows can be repaired multiple times and last for decades or even centuries.

When I walked into the dining room one morning a couple of months ago and saw that one of the panes of glass had cracked, I was immediately anxious. All of our windows are vinyl, and the one in the dining room is huge. Replacing it would be expen$$$ive.

Cracked window pane

After a bit of research, I discovered that there was in fact a way to repair the broken pane, and I didn’t have to replace the whole window.

Phew.

This was one of the tasks on my One Room Challenge to-do list, but I didn’t go into any details during my ORC posts. You’ve seen the new dining room, but I wanted to share more on the window.

The dining room window is made up of five panes of thermal glass. The centre is a large fixed pane. At either end we have a double hung window. The upper sash on the right side was the one that cracked.

Dining room window

My online search uncovered multiple window repair companies. I picked four and called them up.

I asked about their process and timelines, gave them the measurements of my window and got a rough quote.

The quotes were all over the map: $450+tax on the high end to $175 all-in on the low end. For reference, our pane was 17 1/2 inches wide by 28 1/2 inches high.

Beyond that, between the different companies everything was pretty much the same. Someone would come to the house to measure the window accurately. They would then order the new pane of glass. It would be a thermal pane, just like the rest of the window. The new window would arrive in 2 to 3 weeks and then a repair person would return to install it. Install would be quick, about an hour.

The company with the cheapest price (The Glass Medic for locals) had a bunch of super positive reviews online, so I decided to go with them.

There was a slight delay as delivery schedules were adjusted for the Easter holiday, but our new glass arrived, along with the our installer, Mark.

Repairing a vinyl window

The old glass was held in place with plastic strips. Mark popped them off and lifted out the broken pane.

Repairing a vinyl window

He cleaned the frame carefully and put little spacers in place to allow room for the glass to expand–so it hopefully doesn’t break again.

Repairing a cracked vinyl window

Repairing a cracked vinyl window

Repairing a cracked vinyl window

He put the new thermal pane in place and reinstalled the strips. Then he wiped off the window,  and the job was done.

Repairing a cracked vinyl window

Repairing a cracked vinyl window

I am super happy with our repaired window. Obviously I’m very relieved we didn’t have to replace the whole thing. I’m also somewhat surprised that I hadn’t heard of these types of repairs before.

Repairing a cracked vinyl window

Broken panes, broken seals, a variety of issues can all be repaired. This obviously saves money, but also saves waste as a whole window is not going in the garbage (an often cited objection to vinyl windows).

What type of windows do you have at your home? Have you ever broken a window? We’re not sure how ours cracked. Mark said it could have been a long-time fault in the glass that finally came out. Have you ever fixed a window? Or replaced one?

Repair, don't replace, your broken vinyl window

Scooting around

I think we may have finally reached the thaw. However, as winter dragged on… and on… it was a rare day that I didn’t say the word “garage” to Matt.

Actually, the season really doesn’t matter. I say “garage” pretty much every day.

If you’ve been following along, you may recall that the plan is to transform the indoor pool into a mudroom and attached garage.

Matt in the indoor pool

Right now, the pool isn’t doing much, beyond a bit of storage.

However, at Ellie’s birthday party last month, it became a scooter park.

Riding scooters in the indoor pool

Riding scooters in the indoor pool

I never expected–or wanted–to own an indoor pool. Scooter park wasn’t even near the list.

Do you have any unexpected features at your house?

Barn repairs – Starting at the bottom

Barn

When we were looking for our farm, I think our real estate agent started to think we were buying a barn rather than a house. I love the beams and the stones and the history, and we fell in love with pretty much every barn we saw.

Fortunately, our barn is in pretty good shape. In fact, previous owners had done quite a bit of work on it–more of an investment than we would ever make.

But we had one issue come up–or down. Some time in the spring, a section of the barn foundation caved in.

Collapsed barn foundation

The stone foundation is double layered, and the outer layer under one of the windows fell down.

The inner layer stayed in place, but as I looked at the wall and thought about fixing it, I came up with a new plan. Take down the inner layer, remove the window and make a door.

The cave-in happened in the corner where I want to put our coop, so having a door would make accessing the birds a whole lot easier.

But first we had to access the barn. We’ve not done a good job of yard maintenance around the barn, and we had all kinds of trees and brush. Matt’s Dad brought his chainsaw and spent a day clearing the mess.

Clearing vegetation from around the barn

Then our mason was able to remove the stones and pour a new threshold for us.

Matt, Ellie and I all put our handprints in the cement (then Ralph and Baxter trampled all over them to add a few prints of their own. I retrowelled the cement and we smushed our hands in again). I love so much that our prints will be here, part of this farm and this beautiful old barn.

Handprints in cement

My brother and sister-in-law came for a visit, so I took advantage of the extra help and my brother and I removed the window and framed up the opening.

Building a door in a barn foundation

Then the mason returned and rebuilt the wall up to the new jamb. This is the same mason that built our fireplace, so he’s very skilled in working with stone and enjoyed the puzzle of fitting everything together. (These pictures give you an idea of the width of these fabulous walls. The jamb is a 2×10, and it’s just about half the wall.)

Repairing a stone barn foundation

Repairing a stone barn foundation

We haven’t figured out the door itself yet. The opening is blocked with plywood, which will likely stay up for the winter. Next year, we’ll build a door. I haven’t quite made up my mind whether it will be sliding or swinging. The opening is very large, so whatever door we have will be heavy.

I often feel that we are stewards of this property, and I feel the same about the barn. It existed long before we arrived at this farm. And hopefully, with a bit of care from us, it will exist long after.

Renovation regrets in Illinois

One of my former bosses used the phrase “even better if.” As in, “We just finished this big project, and it went really well. But what are our even-better-ifs?” It was a great way of looking positively at areas for improvement.

Last week I posted one of my renovation regrets and asked other people to share theirs. Sarah in Illinois immediately thought of one at her house. But instead of calling it a regret, I’m going to call it an even-better-if. Because she and her husband Steve did make lots of improvements to their kitchen. There’s just one little spot that could be even better.

Early when Steve and I first started dating he made the decision to renovate his kitchen. Both of us worked on expanding his small galley kitchen into an existing dining room. We removed a wall, relocated all plumbing and electrical and more than doubled the counter area.

However, it wasn’t until we were really using the newly expanded kitchen that we realized we had a design flaw.

We made a small walkway to enter and exit the kitchen and although this is plenty large enough to walk in and out, we did not realize until much later that this opening was the prime “hanging out” spot. There is always someone standing at this opening.

This is the ideal section of counter top to do meal prep because it is so close to the refrigerator. If you need to enter or exit the kitchen or reach the refrigerator, you will have no choice but to squeeze by someone standing right in that spot.

We have considered re-configuring the kitchen but since we laid all of the floor tile in the room around the cabinets, this is a much much larger project than we want to tackle at this time.

This is an instance where we really should have lived and worked in the space before making final decisions. We learned our lesson and hope we have fewer renovation regrets in the future.

Argh. I’m sure that’s frustrating, Sarah. Matt gets super bugged when people are in his way when he’s cooking. Most of the family has learned to steer clear! Hopefully you can enjoy the other fixes that you did make. More counter space is always good.

Renovation regrets

As Frank says, “Regrets, I’ve had a few.” But when it comes to our renovations, they’re very few.

I think there are a few reasons for this.

One, I’m pretty decisive. I take the time to figure out our spaces and what will work best for us, and once we know what we want we go for it.

Two, I am a pretty visual thinker, so I can picture a space in my head and see what it’s going to look like. This means for the most part I’m not surprised as a project unfolds.

Three, and most importantly in my opinion, I’m not picky. Sure there are spots where the drywall could be a bit smoother or maybe the paint colour isn’t exactly what I pictured. But I can live with them because overall I’m happy with the results of our renos.

However, there’s one spot that I wish we had done differently. So while Frank’s regrets are too few to mention, I’m going to talk about one of mine today.

I wish we had insulated the ceiling of the basement TV area.

Basement TV area

The reason for this is the ceiling of that section of the basement is the floor of Ellie’s room. So every night when Mama and Daddy go off duty and sit down to relax, we’re very conscious of every little sound and how it carries through the floor and upstairs into her room.

Turquoise gender neutral nurseryTurquoise gender neutral nursery

Now I should be clear that Ellie is an excellent sleeper, and we’ve had very few issues. In fact, one night my girlfriend was over with her two rambunctious boys–both younger than 5 years old–and they played noisily downstairs while I successfully put Ellie to bed.

However, sound is something I’m very aware of and I feel like I’d be able to relax a bit more if we had better sound insulation between downstairs and upstairs.

When we renovated the basement, we were not thinking about kids, let alone what room would be the nursery.

Potlights in the open ceiling

As well, interior insulation was not on my radar. For all of the years that I worked in my Dad’s construction company, insulation was usually reserved for exterior walls. It was about temperature, not sound.

Sound separation has become more of a consideration in recent years, I feel. But it’s something I wish I’d thought about six years ago.

What about you? Do you have any sound issues at your house? Have you insulated any interior walls or ceilings? Do you have any reno regrets?

A simple deck switch in Illinois

In Illinois Sarah is enjoying outdoor living. She and her husband Steve made what turned out to be a simple change to improve their enjoyment of one of their favourite outdoor spots.

I’ve mentioned several times that Steve and I like to spend a lot of time on our deck. We designed and built it the summer of 2013. Then two years later we cleaned and sealed it.

We have gotten so much use out of it, whether it is just Steve and mefr or one of the several the birthday parties, 4th of July parties and girl’s night that we have had on the deck.

As much as we have used the deck, Steve had noticed that it could be improved. When we designed it we had two sets of steps: one directed towards a door of the house that we use often and one directed towards our garden.

However, after a few years of use Steve pointed out that we could really improve the flow if we moved the steps. What first seemed like a huge undertaking was really a quick change up. Thankfully the steps were built independently of the deck so after removing several deck screws the whole set of steps easily moved.

Then taking a few screws out of the railing and using a circular saw to cut it down we were easily able to replace it where we had removed the steps. Thankfully Steve has really good vision, because when he mentioned doing this I thought it was going to be a whole day of work and honestly it took less than an hour!

Moving the steps to a longer side did bring up a small issue. The stairs were narrower than the opening. Steve and I both felt that some tall planters would guide people towards the stairs and a railing wouldn’t be needed.

We found these planters at Lowe’s. To fill them we wanted something permanent that would look nice in the winter so we also purchased these bushes. Then we bought petunias and verbena for color during the summer. We could not be happier with how they turned out. (And yes that is Blitz’s very own baby pool in the background.)

Also I had to divide and move my mums around to fill in where the steps had been. We still need to decide what material and where we want a walkway but overall we are thrilled with the changes.

The deck just feels like it makes more sense this way and we sure like to spend time sitting out there and enjoying each other’s company.

Do you have a gathering spot at your house? Ever had a project that just wasn’t working and you made the decision to rework it? What flowers would you use to fill those big pots?

What a great switch, Sarah. I’m impressed that it was such an easy change for you. The planters are a good solution.