A Decidedly Dumb Thing I’ll Never Do Again

Keep squirming & there’s going to be a little bald girl with no lollipop.

– Lisa’s stylist, dealing with gum

Here’s a new opportunity for y’all to learn from/laugh at my failings.

Over the weekend, I was Dremelling a bad finish off a vintage chandelier. In the interest of safety, I was wearing a dust mask and safety glasses. Said glasses slipped down my nose, and in response, I made a really bad automatic decision.

The big, dumb mistake: I used the back of my right hand to push the glasses up. My right hand was holding the Dremel, which caught my hair, reeling in my hand at high speed and causing me to PUNCH MYSELF IN THE FACE.

I attempted to turn the tool (still running, loudly) off at the switch. The switch was pretty firmly wedged against my skull, so I pulled the cord out of the wall with my left hand. (The irony of my left hand’s usefulness at this juncture is not lost on me.) I proceeded upstairs with my new Dremel-hat, already keenly aware of my seriously dumb appearance.


I sat on the floor while the Kev attempted to make sense of this fresh ridiculousness. I took off the wayward safety goggles, which, apparently, had been holding in all my blood.


“Where are you bleeding from??” Kev demanded.

“I dunno — my head somewhere?” I replied

Kev cut the Dremel out of my hair to administer first aid, leaving me with a bald spot and bleeding coordinates — an impact wound on my forehead. Luckily, I’d been using a nylon brush rather than a cutting wheel, or things could have been much worse, scalp-wise.


Kind to scalps, not so gentle on your hair.

Good news was that I didn’t even need stitches. The bad: my hair was not exactly a Pre-Raphaelite-level tangle hazard before the incident, but I am now left with the quandary of how to deal with an unexpected bald spot right above my face.


One option.

Eventually, I arrived at to a two-part solution — a way to corral hair during Dremel use, as well as a means to cover DIY-pattern baldness.

David Foster Wallace world copyright Giovanni Giovannetti/effigie

David Foster Wallace
world copyright Giovanni Giovannetti/effigie

Let it not be said that one of the great literary minds of my generation did not also provide practical fashion guidance (as well as post title ideas). Wallace first used bandanas to deal with sweating, but they would also keep one’s hair out of power tools. I’ve often used scarves while gardening (not that I sweat, of course — lady gardeners glow). Now that I’ve been upsold on the need for hair control indoors, it’s time to introduce my goggles and mask to their new friend, Tightly Wrapped Scarf.

The same basic concept (in girlier headband form) is also serving to hide my attractive bald spot, something like this:

Picture/Product via Bolder Band

Picture/Product via Bolder Band

So sporty, right?? I don’t look this confident about it. Grow, hair, grow!!!

The actual moral of this story: Don’t do what I did! Or more specifically, stay focused while using power tools. Even a lightweight tool like a Dremel can mess you up far worse than the love-bite I received. Always maintain a healthy respect for the tools, and use them in a deliberate and careful manner.

(Also, one sub-moral: Never — ever — do an image search for “power tool stuck to head”.)

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Remodel Progress

Ben and Lois are here! Well, right now, they are in Chicago, but they are “here” in general. The house will wait!

Since they are out of town, I thought I’d show where we stopped (and will be picking up).

The drywalling is done, and the whole clan rallied to prime the new walls.

Dad priming the bathroom. Sis-in-law Mary was also on the scene.

Dad priming the bathroom. Sis-in-law Mary was also on the scene.

I’ve also bought the paint. It’s white paint. White paint is ridiculously difficult to pick out, so fingers crossed that we decide we chose something vaguely acceptable once it’s up on the walls.

We started finishing the floor in the bathroom, including installing the in-floor heat. That saga is ongoing, and the bathroom is not operational yet. Much more on all that later.

Electric heat in goop.

Electric heat in goop.

We hung some curtains since we are sleeping up there, so that’s windows semi-managed for now.

These are too short. The ones in the bedroom are too long.

These are too short. The ones in the bedroom are too long.

I started stripping the doors we’re going to reuse. Once all the stripping is done, there will be hinge-flipping and refinishing, and eventually hanging.

This door took a ridiculous amount of stripping.

This door took a ridiculous amount of stripping.

There’s a door at the bottom of the stairs, but no door on the bedroom yet (pending refinishing and everything), so early morning light intrudes through the reading room skylight. As a temporary fix, I grabbed a twin mattress and propped it up monolith-style between the skylight and the bedroom.

"Oh my god...it's full of stuffing!"

“Oh my god…it’s full of stuffing!”

Besides that mattress, two men and a boy also moved a queen-sized mattress up the stairs. There are no pictures because there are really no leisurely moments during such an endeavour. Here’s a video metaphor for getting a queen-sized mattress through a narrow door to some steep stairs:


Once done, Mayya took advantage.


We also got some lights put up and the electricity working. Of course, some of the lights are vintage or salvaged, so more on those projects another time.

We’re sort of living up there!


Some progress makes the time off feel well-deserved.

Posted in Construction, Family | 2 Comments


Welcome to Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp, where you’ll experience the complete rock-n-roll lifestyle without the lawsuits and STDs. And remember rule #1: There are no rules! Rule #2, no outside food.

– Mick Jagger

When I was in high school theater, we made liberal use of whitening hair spray when playing old folks. We looked completely ludicrous. RIP our faculty advisor, who thought teenagers could do Ionesco — he was surely the world’s most optimistic (or deluded) man.

The sheetrock guys started on Friday afternoon. Not only were they dressed in white, they looked like they had been into the hair spray. Or a massive amount of coke. They were immediately followed by a truck with a lift to take the drywall in through the window.


No idea how he threaded this apparatus over the fence and between the power line and the tree.

After unloading the boards, they jumped right to it, and had the ceiling panels up by 4:00.

From the bottom of the stairs

From the bottom of the stairs

Ceiling in the bathroom

Ceiling in the bathroom

So now it’s Thursday the following week, and it’s still happening. The drywallers certainly aren’t being lazy — it just takes this long. They have to cut it and hang it, then tape all the joints. Then the joints get mudded (joint compound application) once, and that has to dry. Then they put on a further coat, which also has to dry. That’s where we are at now.

Reading room

Reading room



Sheetrock, gypsum board, plasterboard, wallboard, drywall — they are all basically the same thing. Many of the terms are just former brand names that have become generic over time (as happened with escalator,  trampoline, and heroin). The high number of brands suggests to me that there’s a large profit margin in drywall production.

Drywall installation, though, is labor-intensive. They’ll be back today to sand, so we hope to be priming and painting this weekend. That will give me a day to recover from priming the exterior trim on the new windows, which I did from inside the house for lack of a suitable ladder. Some kids on the street thought it was hilarious. Stupid kids! Then, when I went out afterwards to pick up some beer, the guy asked me for my ID. “Are you joking? I’m, like, 106!” I muttered indignantly.

Maybe remodeling years are like dog years. I am feeling pretty old and cranky.

Give one one's booze, or the dog gets it!

Give one one’s booze, or the dog gets it!

Posted in American vs English, Construction, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Behold the Awesomeness of My Man

Oh, Homie!

– Marge Simpson

Quick like a bunny before he notices this post title and changes it*, take a look at what the Kev did. Remember the knee walls were pushed back, leaving gaps in the floor?


Think anyone will notice?

We pulled up some of the floor elsewhere and Kev wove it into the existing bedroom floor to cover the gap. Like a boss!

Patched in floor? Where?

Patched in floor? Where?

There are a fair few videos and guides out there for how to do this job, but you’ll need patience, determination, and attention to detail to be successful (which is why I was not involved). Check out these references for detailed instructions:

First thing, he randomized the existing boards by cutting them into strips with a circular saw.


He chiseled in an edge and pried out the pieces.


Eventually, the whole edge was randomized and ready for added boards.

This project killed our Shop Vac; this one is the replacement.

This project killed our prior Shop Vac; this one is the shiny replacement.

Kevin de-nailed the salvaged boards and cut them each to length, used a mallet to push them up tight against the other edge and the side boards, then face-nailed them, long into the night.


Immediately after he finished, the drywallers started, so this is the best picture I have of the entire finished product so far:

Bottom left corner is where we pulled boards that were installed around closet walls; the fancy patches are set off nicely by the drywall dust.

In the bottom left corner, you can see where we pulled boards that were installed around closet walls and relocated; the fancy patching in the bedroom is set off nicely by the drywall dust.

But here’s another look at the first finished corner, which gives a better idea:


This looks so great that I want to find more of this stuff and add to it in the reading room too! Hot tip for locals: flooring is in the basement at Bauer Brothers (but look out for nail-studded pieces on the floor waiting for you to step on them; don’t take your kids).

Yay, Kev!

* I asked him if he wanted to change the post title, and he said, “Well, it’s out there now.” I asked if he liked my bragging about him, and he said he did not. So expect less effusiveness in future!

Posted in Before & After, Romance, Salvage, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Had It

Honey, let me explain what happened tonight. Sometimes when your mom has half a glass of wine, she goes cuckoo bananas.

– Marge Simpson

I’m a stress puppy from a family of stress puppies, but I thought I was dealing with the remodel pretty well. “It will all get done eventually!” I’d say. “There’s no point losing our minds over it!” The Kev was more stressed than I was, and THAT, my friends, is an unusual state of affairs.

Kevin's spirit animal.

The Kev’s spirit animal.

Those days are over.

One of the oddest ways I exhibit stress is to seek out an additional project. As if work isn’t full-on right now and there isn’t enough to do with the remodel. I can’t explain it, but I tend to find something completely unnecessary and decide it needs to be done. NOW.

Here’s what I decided needed doing:

fainting couch

Ok, hang in there with me. First, reupholstery would be a given. Obviously. Second, I would get rid of the horns. But doesn’t a reading room need a cool couch or something to curl up on? Look at the carving!

fainting couch head

The Craigslister who has never been to a zoo described this as a lion’s head. Regardless of the head’s origin, though, is that not utterly wonderful?



Shut up, crickets!

And also shut up, co-worker who, when shown the picture, responded simply that fleas sometimes still carry the plague.

Can no one see how much potential that thing has?!?



There are healthy ways to deal with stress. Spend time away from the house. Get some exercise. Get some bloody perspective, for that matter. But sometimes, all you can do is sprinkle Xanax on your ice cream and hope for the best. And pass on the fainting couch.

Posted in Construction, D'oh!, Furniture | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Air Conditioning…Glorious Air Conditioning

I got the idea when I noticed the refrigerator was cold.

– Homer Simpson

Previously, I talked about the three options we considered for the air conditioning. We ultimately went with regular central air, running the ducts through the attic space.

Central air has a few basic components. In a house with original forced air heat and associated AC, all these pieces are in close proximity.

From This Old House

From This Old House

When retrofitting, the different pieces might end up being more spread out. In our case, there were two options:

  1. Air handler in the basement with vents through the floor and ductwork through a closet to the new rooms upstairs, or
  2. Air handler in the attic with vents through the ceiling to the ground floor rooms and directly into the upstairs rooms.

The second choice was the more efficient use of the space we have. Putting ducts in the basement would have reduced headroom in a space with very little headroom from the get-go. The attic option didn’t hurt headroom anywhere, and ceiling vents are easier to place than floor vents in such a small house.

Air handler

Air handler behind the knee wall, bedazzled with foam insulation

The air handler is connected to the compressor via a conduit that runs down the outside of the house. It resembles a downspout.

There it is!

There it is!

The ducts go to different rooms in the ground floor through some exaggerated ducting.

Each flexible duct goes to a vent.

Each flexible duct goes to a ceiling vent (in this case, dining room and then two to the living room). You can also see one of the wall vents on the left (this one will be on the wall in the bedroom).

The ceiling vents are round, about 8 inches wide, and blend in with the ceiling pretty well. There are some prettier options I might look into at some point, but these are fine (arguably even when photographed with a flash at night, as here).


Small plaster repair still needs to be painted.

Meanwhile upstairs, ducts go to rectangular wall vents (as seen above). The only real shoehorning involved moving the air between the two sides of the house. The living space upstairs is flanked by two attic spaces, and vents need to pop out from both of them. The ductwork is bigger than for miniducts, and required a soffit to make the journey. The carpenter built a soffit structure that he centered on the bedroom door. He added some angles not needed by the ductwork to make it symmetrical. We think we will build in bookshelves underneath it to the left of the door.

Pre-insulation soffit with venting.

Pre-insulation soffit with venting.

There’s a fair bit of AC sass-talk out there–it’s unnecessary and environmentally unfriendly!–but few argue with the corresponding idea of central heat. The system is more efficient than our former window units, and we are careful energy users. We went for a very efficient unit, and felt validated when a technician measuring how much power the system was drawing commented, “That’s, like, NOTHING.” With the insulation we’ve added, the house is now much more energy efficient overall.

And it’s just so wonderful.

cat with fan

Apparently, you are unlikely to get your money back on retrofitting air conditioning, but I don’t even care.

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Dumpster Puzzle Solved

Remember the Blair Witch issue with the dumpster? Well, apparently what it is, is someone staging materials for dumpster divers. I am not making this up!

More stuff had been arrayed geometrically around the container yesterday morning, but before I could take a picture, a guy in a large truck showed up and systematically picked through the piles. About 75% went in the truck, and the rest he threw back in the dumpster. He never looked in the dumpster, just at the piles, indicating they were all a part of some larger plan.

What’s sadder, staging dumpster contents or curtain-twitching to watch someone dumpster dive? Undoubtedly the latter.

Posted in Salvage | 1 Comment

Foamy Home

The spray can is mightier than the sword.

– Simpsons Comic #37

When I was an adolescent, I saw a picture of a bedroom from one of the Xanadu foam houses. “Look at THIS!” I said to my mother. “How would you keep it clean??” she responded. I was entranced and undeterred.

xanadu house

But now I see her point.

The foam spray guys visited today, so we have a temporary semi-version of my one-time dream room, soon to be covered with easily cleanable drywall.

Insulation covers the entire inside of the roof.

Insulation covers the entire inside of the roof.

So the wiring we did...I guess it's pretty much permanent now.

So the wiring we did…I guess it’s pretty much permanent now.

This is closed cell urethane insulation, sprayed in place by some extremely nice guys who were sweet to the cats. This material was not in the original plan for the insulation, but the contractor gave us a bunch of options, and spray insulation gave the most bang for the buck.

  • It was sprayed over rigid foam insulation put in place with spacers to allow cold air to circulate under the roof to avoid ice dams.
I was wrong.

Rigid foam, with a hole where a vent stack fell through it; you can see the spacers under the roof above it. This stuff is under the foam everywhere.

  • The closed cells enclose gas that doesn’t conduct heat well, so it offers a lot of insulation value in a comparatively small space. That means that we will enjoy a much higher R-value without losing as much headroom.
  • There may be a tax deduction for making the place more energy efficient.
  • Once it cures, it’s non-toxic. I mean, don’t eat it or anything, but it won’t make you sick just being in your walls. Plus, it’s a moisture barrier so it helps keep out mold and other sick-building problems.
  • Since it expands, it seals up leaks that fiberglass batts or other options cannot reach.

The downsides are that there is a fair bit of wasted material because anything that expands beyond the insulation area must be cut off and discarded. (The dumpster is now full!)

The other issue is that the material needs to be walled in (even in unused attic space) with a thermal barrier. The barrier is typically drywall or plywood; drywall will be in the livable space, of course, but the storage areas will need to be lined with plywood. That’s an added expense. Why do you need that? Apparently, the insulation might combust in a fire, so the thermal barrier keeps the insulation separate from open areas of the house. (It’s not a fire risk to use, though — read more here.)

Reminds me of snowdrifts only, you know, upside-down.

Reminds me of snowdrifts only, you know, upside-down.

If you choose this method, when you are having the work done, make sure you’ve cleared the space so they can get to everything and corralled your pets. Be aware that it’s going to be stinky for a short time while they are spraying. But the foam sets up very quickly, and the smell disappears. Leaking smells are probably not dangerous, but you might want to not be home, is my point.

The cats would have preferred not to be home. There are weird pumping sounds and smells, and afterwards, everything looks different.

When will you stop changing everything??

Will you please stop changing everything?!?

Progress. Just a few more things, and then sheetrock. Then we need to kick in the bathroom tiling to get this thing (largely) done!

Posted in Construction, Energy, Siding & Roof | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Blair Witch Dumpster

beerwitchOne surprising thing about having an enormous dumpster in the side yard is the non-surreptitiousness of the divers. I expected — nay, WELCOMED — such visitors. The more stuff that is reused, the better! But I did anticipate they would be more discreet. These divers back trucks up to the dumpster and roust about loudly, vigorously, and at some length.

What I did expect and didn’t get, though, was people dumping stuff. So far, only one obvious addition has been made to the container, and it was just a single bag of trash. Or maybe body parts. I didn’t investigate.

The actual depth of Stuff has been receding as the dumpster (UK: skip) is harvested for metal salvage, usable wood, and whatever else. Sometimes, that’s me — I’ve yanked flooring, hinges, and some window glass out of there myself.


I can’t spell “lightning” when entranced by dumpster contents.

But at least one person is being more secretive. AND WEIRD. Rather than just taking wanted items, this person makes small piles of stuff near the dumpster under cover of … well, either darkness or just when we aren’t looking. I would have thought that they were prepping them for small loads on, say, a bike, but no. They just get rearranged a few times. When I’ve glanced in the dumpster, sometimes the selected stuff has been thrown back in there. What?

The items on the left moved around quite a bit. We also had some festive cardboard bunting, the remainder of which is intact at the right.

The items on the left moved around quite a bit in various patterns. We also had some festive (and too regular to be random) cardboard bunting, the remainder of which is intact at the right.

I haven’t photographed all of these arrangements, but they include:

  • A sash weight pyramid.
  • An exclamation point (seemingly intentional?) made of plywood scraps with a defunct electrical box as the point.
  • Pieces of electrical cable sheathing organized by color.

Urban crop circle equivalent? Weird kids? Unusually precocious raccoons? WITCHES? I’m open to hypotheses.

Posted in American vs English, Construction, Salvage | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A Little Off the Top


On Thursday, six guys tore the roof off the house and garage and put on another. We were expecting it would take at least two days, but they started at 6:45 a.m., left at 9:15 p.m., and only took about 20 minutes for lunch. If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible.

And sooo polite. The youngest guy was sent to ferry drinks from the fridge periodically. I told him he could just come in whenever, but instead he knocked every time and removed his cap when he came in the house. Not sure how I never met this kid while my parents were raising him.

Remember I was obsessing about roof colors (while Kevin rolled his eyes)? When it came down to it, the subcontractor was using Owens Corning Oakridge shingles instead of the GAF colors we were anticipating, so the obsessing started all over again. It was more fun this time, because Owens Corning has a page where you can try options out, and one model house was ridiculously close to our house colors (and not too far off the period and style). We knew we wanted a warm color to coordinate with the hardscaping, and settled on Aged Cedar.

Owens Corning roof visualization

Owens Corning roof visualization screenshot

We also moved some stacks around, and went for a roof ridge vent rather than the vent boxes shown near the ridge in the before shot. This is all part of the cold-roof system that is best demonstrated by diagrams from people who know what they are talking about:


The cold air enters above the roof insulation and is pulled along outside the insulation and exits at the ridge, keeping the roof deck cold to avoid ice dams (via).

Instead of soffit vents, we have corresponding low-roof vents under the shingles themselves.

The soffit vent alternative (via)

The shingle vent alternative (via)

Ok, so the roof mechanics are conceptually sound, and the shingle color was really just a detail. I still woke up during the night before thinking, “What if we’ve picked something way too dark and weird!?” But as long as it would still keep rain and snow off us, the aesthetics were just a bonus.

We prepped by moving all the plant containers, bird feeders, and porch furniture away from the house. And we bought soda and snacks. Beyond that, there was nothing we could really do ahead of time.

Dawn and roofers arrived early on Thursday. Once the tar paper came off the roof (by about 10:00 am), I was surprised how slatted the actual roof deck is.

Once the tarpaper's off, you can really see through the roof.

No good for vampires.

The crew also installed our two skylights.

One skylight in!

Roof off, one skylight in!

The immediate difference it made inside was remarkable. It’s positively airy up there! I did a small dance.

The first look up at the skylight. TREEHOUSE EFFECT!

The first look up the stairs at the skylight. TREEHOUSE EFFECT!

A guy with a crane dropped the many shingle packages on the roof mid-morning. The whole house shook, and some cats were displeased. The actual shingling kicked off early afternoon.

Porch roof on

Porch roof on

The crew put down tarps all around the house. I still anticipated that there would be a big mess afterwards — it’s a messy job. I grew up in a new subdivision, and we were always playing with shingles and siding pieces that had been left behind. That’s not an option for the neighborhood kids here.

mess v not mess

During and after

It went so well, I might have dreamed this re-roof, except that we have an actual new roof. Here’s the old roof:


Here’s the new:

I know conventional wisdom says white house/gray roof, but I like the cedar color. Makes the place more cottage-y and snuggly. Coordinates with the hardscaping. And maybe someday the house won’t be white.

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Posted in Before & After, Garage, Siding & Roof | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments