Vent Stack Calls it a Day

Boom! I am outta here, I’m a dot, I’m gone, okay?

– James Woods

The vent stack from the kitchen ran through the loft space, but the plumber was relocating it.

Before the plumber started working on it

Before the plumber started working on it

I don’t have a picture, but the plumber had cut off the narrower pipe leading up to the cast iron thingy indicated by the arrow. That part was hanging from the ceiling. “Don’t bump your head on that,” I said to the AC guy the other day. See, I figured it was in there pretty solidly and wouldn’t give in any direction.

I was wrong.

I was wrong.

The only thing holding it up, it turns out, was some mastic. AND WHAT A MASTIC. It’s been hanging there unsupported for days. Until today, when it said, “What’s the point, anyway?” and let go. One of the AC guys was up there and he said when he turned to see why a bomb had just gone off next to him, the thing was still bouncing.

Luckily, it had something to bounce on! There were two 2x6s spanning the hole in the floor underneath it; otherwise, it would have gone straight through the dining room ceiling. It’s 50 pounds if it’s an ounce.

That crack in the left board is new.

That crack in the left board is new.

We are all kinds of lucky. No one was in its way and it damaged nothing except that board. Scared the everliving snot out of Inigo, but who wants a snotty cat?

If I have a point (I don’t), it’s to not assume heavy things are supported in any way. So don’t stand under them. Actually, I guess my point is, “Hey, y’all! This thing fell out of the roof and made a big noise!”


Posted in Construction, D'oh!, Plumbing, Siding & Roof | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Escape from the Home Depot


The new upstairs bathroom will have a shower. A shower needs a base (unless you are having the situation custom tiled, and we are too cheap for that). We found a base that met our space constraints and didn’t make me feel sad.

Bootz Showercast at Home Depot (see it here)

Bootz Showercast at Home Depot (see it here)

It’s porcelain over steel (instead of porcelain over cast iron in tubs), so it has an old-school enamel finish, but in a shower base. It’s a miracle product, people.

Step 1. We buy the shower base.

Tubs and showers are “handed” based on where the drain is as you are looking at it. Assume you are getting into the shower — which side is the drain on? On your right, it’s right-handed. That’s what we need, that’s what we buy. Pan is listed at $189, but rings up at $159. Bonus!

Step 2: Plumber cruelly rejects shower base.

Tells Kev it’s the wrong way around and the drain needs to be at the “other end.”

Step 3: We exchange the base.

We suppose that the plumber wants a left-handed shower base (even though the shower is at the right end), because…well, who knows what plumbers need or want? He wants it the other way. I lead the charge to return it for a left-handed base.

Step 4: Plumber cruelly rejects shower base.

Tells Kevin that the base is the wrong way around. Kevin texts me this information. I make this face.


Step 5: I think unkind things about the plumber.

Step 6: We exchange the base.

We go back for a new right-hand drain base. Every shower base exchange, Home Depot does a full return and puts the total on store credit, then we go get the new shower base and check out. Also every time, some poor soul has to go to receiving to find the base, which for some reason doesn’t live on the retail floor. It’s not easily accessible, if time expended is anything to go by.

I should add that everyone is very nice about all this at the Depot.

Step 7: I notice that shower base 3 is strangely familiar.

“This is the first one we bought,” I insist. “I remember that dent in the box, and it’s been re-sealed.” The Kev makes this face:

exasperated puppy

We open the box in the Depot’s parking lot.

It’s a left-handed base in a right-handed box.


Step 8: I revise my opinion of the plumber.

Step 9: We exchange the base.

We go straight back into the store. The return clerk starts to process it as a full exchange. I’m torn between tears and laughter. “Can’t we please just please have them bring up a different one? Please?” I ask.


At this point, Brandon the Good appears on the scene. Brandon went to receiving for the base only ten minutes earlier. The return clerk was not totally clear on what I was begging her to do (my bad, not hers — I may have been keening incoherently). Brandon looks in the box, understands, says he’ll take care of it…and he does. HE DOES! HE BRINGS US ANOTHER BASE AND WE ALL CHECK IT TOGETHER AND IT IS RIGHT! Correct and right-handed.

Instead of the orange apron, dude might as well have been wearing this shirt:

I'm here to rescue you

Brandon already doesn’t remember us, but I am FOREVER GRATEFUL. ALL HAIL BRANDON.

Anyway, my point: check the drain orientation on the first unit before driving home.

Posted in Bathroom, D'oh!, Plumbing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Staying Flexible

I can’t stand it any longer. This whole plant is insane. Insane, I tell you! Daaaaaaaaaaaah! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

– Frank Grimes

We were doing really well with the remodel. After stuffing things out of the way, we had almost as much room as we’ve had in a few flats. Last week Tuesday, though, I was out of town when the plumber asked Kev to empty the hall and bedroom closets for pipes. I returned Wednesday night to stacks of STUFF everywhere. Neat stacks, but it still felt like this:


With the environment turned upside down, the Kev tends toward exasperation, while I tend toward crazy. Kev asked me where something was, and I got all dramatic: “I DON’T KNOW WHERE ANYTHING IS! INCLUDING ANY UNDERPANTS I AM NOT CURRENTLY WEARING!” With that, I flounced meaningfully from the room and tripped over a cat.


After some weekend organizing, we both felt better, but yesterday was challenging. We’ve reached the part of the project we’re calling “the part where you find out you’re going to have less floor than you thought.”

The bathroom floor, to be precise. Here’s the framed bathroom:


The shower will be on the right, and the sink and toilet will be on the left. There will be a skylight in the middle. Our thought was that we would build in cabinetry along the knee wall for (a) storage and (b) a buffer zone to prevent walking into the ceiling.

bathroom with cabinet

The working concept was to salvage kitchen uppers for the carcasses, then add the doors, top, and trim we want. But then I found this:

perfect cabinet

This is a former built-in cabinet that plainly was meant for our bathroom. It was exactly the right size and the sliding doors would save room — plus, it’s just lovely! When I found it (Craigslist, of course), the loft framing was ongoing so dimensions were not final. I wrote to the seller (paraphrasing):

Hey, um, we totally might want that thing you have there! But we don’t know yet. You wanna contact me if you don’t sell it right away in case we do want it?

Surprisingly, she was game for this ditzy arrangement. Last week, I contacted her and said we did want it, and started scheduling pick-up. And then:
bathroom with problemThe AC installer needs to put an air return in the hallway, and the duct is larger than others in the system and must go across joists. Translated, this means it needs to go above the floor.

The first hole, presaging the later larger hole for a big ole above-floor duct.

The first hole, presaging the larger hole for a big ole above-floor duct.

Well, ratfart. Good-bye, lovely cabinets; hello, embarrassing call to cabinet seller. (Fortunately, we expressly said she should take any earlier offer until we scheduled pick-up.)

Also, hello, new bathroom plan.

bathroom solution cupboard

Usually, we’re the ones figuring out that something won’t work in our old place, and since we’re doing the work, we have time to dwell on the issue until a solution occurs to us. It’s a different experience to adapt on the fly to “this is how it has to be.” But we’re adapting — watch this rationalization:

That space would have been too narrow for the cabinet anyway! This solution makes MUCH more sense. SO GLAD THIS HAPPENED!

The ability to rationalize happily is a sign of maturity. Or experience, one or the other.

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What You Have There is an Ex-Plant

We’re all gonna die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

– Bart Simpson

It was rainy on Sunday, so I decided to run some errands. I took this plant with me because I thought a drive might make it feel better.


This is a Hetz Midget arborvitae that I put in last spring, along with six of its friends. The others are fine, and I don’t know what the problem was with this one. So I returned it, 354 days after purchase.

Many of the big box stores and most nurseries have guarantees on perennials, shrubs, and trees that are hardy in the local area. The receipt or the plant tag should indicate whether a plant is guaranteed, but ask about the policy if you aren’t sure. The guarantee is usually (but not always) for a year.

If I know that I did something wrong that killed a plant, I figure that’s on me. I’ll only return one that died inexplicably. But it’s worth noting that the return clerk probably won’t care one way or another, especially at a big box store. (I did once receive a short lesson in fertilizing technique at a nursery return desk, though.)

Yeah, dirt from Honeybear Gulch. That'll do it.

Yeah, soil from Honeybear Gulch. That’ll do it.

If you want to return a deceased plant, you’ll probably need all of the following things:

  1. The plant itself — heard of proof of life? This is the opposite.
  2. The pot it came in, with stickers or bar codes intact.
  3. The receipt (of course).
  4. Any hanging tags that came with the plant.

When I buy guaranteed plants, I stack the pots on a shelf in the garage with the hanging tags inside, and I file the receipt. If it croaks for no good reason, I can pull everything together quickly.


Note that mail-order nurseries often have a guarantee that does not require any proof other than your word (and some information about the purchase from your order confirmation email). Most such places mainly sell unkillables, though, so requesting a refund should be a rare event.

It’s still a minor walk of shame hauling a dead plant in for return, but the store wouldn’t offer a policy it could not commercially handle. Just square your shoulders, look the clerk right in the eye and say, “I WANT TO RETURN THIS DEAD PLANT, PLEASE.” Think of it as a character-building exercise.

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And Then There Were Rooms

super fun happy slide

The loft remodel continues to delight me on a daily basis. I love coming home from work and seeing What Happened Upstairs Today. Kev and I head up together, and we let the cats come along. They are not so much delighted as…


Inigo: cautious. Not sure that any of this is prudent or safe.

...and curious (moving so fast to check everything that she's hard to photograph).

Mayya: curious, and moving so fast to check everything that she’s hard to photograph!

If you visit us on Facebook, you’ve seen how the carpenters raised the collar ties and moved the knee walls out. SPACE!


Raised roof

Then they added the first layer of roof insulation. It’s rigid insulation installed under furring strips, which create a channel to keep the roof cold so no ice dams form. That’s the theory anyway — we’ll find out in a few months!


Looking into the bedroom

Insulation over the bathroom-elect

Insulation over the bathroom-elect

Then the room framing started in earnest. For the closet, we’re using the door we removed when we opened up the closet in our current bedroom.


Closet door

For the bathroom and the bedroom entrances, we are re-using doors that had been chucked into the attic years ago. Tuesday, they asked to see one of those doors, and then…


See what they did there?? EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!! This simplifies the bathroom floor plan and gives us a POCKET DOOR. (UK: Kevin says “maybe a sliding door? Never ran into the concept there.” It does slide, though. I know because I tested the sliding about 400 times in rapid succession.)




Posted in American vs English, Construction, Walls & Floors, Windows & Doors | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Hops, Not Leaps

Ooh, they used nylon rope this time. It feels so smooth against my skin. Almost sensuous!

– Apu

Remember we were growing hops on the back of the garage?

Last summer: can you spot the overachiever?

Last summer: can you spot the overachiever?

Remember I said they would grow up any type of rope? And that I chose natural sisal rope?




I don’t know if this was the result of being below grade or in the snow or eaten by the dang rabbits, but none of the ropes made it to spring attached to the ground. Kev ran to Menards and picked up something completely synthetic.


If you use polyester rope, you can keep the ends from unraveling by the judicious use of FIRE. Just singe cut ends, and they shrivel up. You can also bake a section before cutting through it to cauterize both ends at once. Just watch that you don’t burn through!

Anyway, got it done.


And not a moment too soon.


The nylon anchoring rope in the ground has fared just fine, so I have high hopes this might last longer than eight months. I’ll report back on what the hops think about it longer term.

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Just When You Think You Own All the Saws

Bart:  I can’t find the safety goggles for the power saw.
Homer: If stuff starts flying, just turn your head!

One of the tasks we reserved on the loft project was the flooring. There is a hardwood floor up there (in fairly rough shape), but it only covers the area formerly bordered by the knee walls. Now that we are pushing the knee walls back about 18″, there’s a lot of subfloor showing. Plus, there’s a whole new area that never had any floor.

A plan would be useful, huh?

old plannew planThis is within the roof line, but much more bright and functional. The “reading room” will have a daybed and armchairs. The balcony area on the side of the stairs will have knee wall bookcases so we finally have a space for books.


Something like this, but strictly shelves (via).

We wanted a separate room for lounging other than the bedroom and living room. Putting in a bedroom wall also helps with houseguests. Our current bedroom will be Ben’s/main guest bedroom, and Ben’s current room will become the office (but can function as a bedroom). Extra guests can stay in the reading room. Plus, this will be a perfect nursery space for a future owner.

ANYWAY, the floor. The space between the original walls and the bumped-out walls is just subfloor.


We planned to remove the floor in the closet and bathroom and fill in the gap along the edge of the bedroom/reading room, and then add flooring in the bookcase area. After the old walls were removed, we realized that was a ton of patching. New thought: take it all up and refloor entirely, which would provide better wiring access in the meantime. I also had this fond idea that someone could re-use it.


Because more than anything, I want to be the Hardwood Flooring Fairy (via).

Then we priced flooring, and had another idea: remove the floor in the reading room and refloor. Leave the closet floor; remove it in the bathroom (to be tiled). THEN patch only in the closet and along one bedroom wall, and we’d still have some to give away.

Literally a floor plan

Literally a floor plan

Which leads me to the saw. To take up the floor, we need to cut out the hardwood and pry it out. This is a one-time deal, so I looked on Craigslist and found a used toe-kick saw.


It allows you to get right up against a wall (or against cabinets under a toekick) to cut through flooring. We started busily removing the flooring in the former closet and discovered:

  • This is the right tool for the job.
  • It has a serious kickback (hurrah for safety guards).

Turns out, this is Bruce maple flooring.


It’s a full 3/4″ deep, but in thinner strips (1.5″). It’s gotten very dry up in the hot attic, and was installed weirdly–same direction as the subfloor planks, top nailed regularly with LARGE nails. It hates to come up and splinters something fierce.


Some of it cooperated.

We used a pry bar to gradually lever up each piece along its length. Regardless of whether we started from the tongue (nailed) or the other side, many pieces just were not playing.

Ready for a vampire attack.

Vampire preparedness

So, new new plan: continue removing floorboards in the “new floor” area. See how much is reusable. Attempt adding to the closet floor (where it hardly matters) and see if that’s achievable. If so and if we have enough left, patch in along the bedroom wall. If not, refloor the bedroom.

Old closet with floor removed

One section done

That’s the plan for the next quarter-hour anyway.

Posted in Construction, Salvage, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Three Worst Kind of Craigslist Buyers (And How to Avoid Them)

And you, sir, are worse than Hitler.

– DMV Manager

We’ve been very active on Craigslist recently. We just picked up a Kohler sink for the bathroom-to-be, but mostly we’ve been selling. We do sell stuff on CL pretty often, but the process of clearing out the loft made us very active merchants.

I wish these guys would come buy some of our junk.

I wish these guys would come buy some of our junk.

When you sell stuff on CL, it’s usually a good experience with friendly people. Sometimes, it’s a funny experience with slightly off-kilter people. More occasionally, though, you have an irritating experience with a clueless or actively rude person.


These folks fall into three main categories, sometimes overlapping. To combat them, I developed some coping techniques. Take a look and chime in if you have other ideas (or other Craigslister bad behavior categories).

1. Mr./Ms. No-Impulse-Control

This person emails, “Oh, I have to have it, can I pick it up tomorrow at noon? I will totally be there!!! Thank you!!!!!” and then they never show up. At least have the weenie-tiny cajones to text me and say, “Sorry, I can’t do it after all.” I mean, what’s the worst that happens? I text back, “Ok, thanks for letting me know”? I really hate sitting around waiting for Craigslist fantasists.

They should be forced to wear one of these (via).

They should be forced to wear one of these (via).

How to Identify and Deal: These folks are the MOST EXCITED PEOPLE EVER. Make sure you get their phone number and always contact them using it. Otherwise, they may disappear behind the email relay. Be very specific (you need to be here by 7:00 because I have a back-up offer; you should bring help because it’s 87 pounds; there is a scratch on the back, would you like a picture?). Specifics cause fictional interest to evaporate. If not, at least you have a drop-dead time.

2. The Cheapskate

This person demands a price concession before seeing the item without any niceties. At least see the thing before negotiating! We price things cheaply to begin with, but are open to offers…once you are standing here with money.


I’m not including the people who say, “I only have $20 to spend on this item, and I’m wondering if that would work for you? Thanks for considering it.” It’s all in the approach!

How to Identify and Deal: If they don’t just blurt the lower price during the first communication, they may start pointing out problems with the item to set up a later lowball. If you aren’t flexible, say that you are firm on the price in the post and repeat as necessary. If someone lowballs us, I counter and add something like “and we’ll help you load it.” If their email or text is outright rude, though, I just delete it.

3. The Time Lord

This person exists outside space and time and doesn’t understand your terrestrial “clocks.” Arranged to stop by at six, then annoyed your porch light is off at nine? That’s reasonable.


How to Identify and Deal: This person generally gives a wide time span rather than a specific time: “I’ll be there between 7 and 8:30″ for instance. As with the make-believe buyers, I try to drown them in specifics. “We have limited availability this evening, so it would need to be no later than 7:30; otherwise, we have a back-up buyer.” Ask for a status report: “We need this thing gone tonight, so call me if you are going to be later than 7.” They won’t call, and you can move on.

While these techniques help weed out the jerks, they really work as general guidelines. In short:

  • delete rude responses.
  • always get a phone number.
  • be extremely specific.
  • set a drop-dead time.

Happy Craigslisting!

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I Waited Over 300 Posts to Use This Quote

Demo is underway on the loft! OH, YES, the remodeling has begun!

The general plan is to increase floor space (by pushing out the knee walls), heighten the ceiling, add skylights and larger windows, put in a master suite (including bathroom and a walk-in closet), rewire the whole loft (and part of the rest of the house), re-roof and re-floor. Also, add central air conditioning to the whole building. So, you know, no biggie.


During the Great Purge and Dejunking

During the Great Purge and Dejunking

Finally empty

Finally empty, except for…

...a load-bearing poster!

…a load-bearing poster!

Demo Day 1: We’re lucky to have found a contractor who is cool with splitting up some of the tasks (we’re doing the electrical, flooring, tile, and finish work). At one point, I mentioned to Kev that we could handle the demo. Yes, we could have done that, but it would have taken us 14 years. This is one situation where it is so much more satisfying to have someone else do a job. For one thing, they really know how to get it done!

First thing they did was get rid of the poster, then saw horizontally through the wallboard.

First thing they did was get rid of the poster, then saw horizontally through the wallboard.

Finally got a good look at the original insulation.

Finally got a good look at the original insulation.

"It tucks in!"

“It tucks in!”

End of day one: most of the wall board down.

End of day one: most of the wall board down.

At the end of the first day, we had to remove the live wiring now exposed by demo. I’ll cover that process when I talk knob-and-tube elimination. I very much enjoyed pulling that stuff out and capping it, and I’m looking forward to the larger-scale rewiring.

Demo Day 2: The remainder of the wallboard came down and all the old insulation was removed. We have a dumpster (UK: skip) of ginormous proportions in the side yard, and lumber delivery drivers arriving on the regular.

We keep the cats locked away from the area during the day (no one needs such a critical audience), but it’s fun to watch them explore after everyone’s gone home.

Inigo is uncertain whether any of this is prudent.

Inigo is sure none of this activity is prudent.

Framing reduced for access ahead of new framing. The carpenters kindly stacked up the reusable insulation for us (it's now stacked in our garage and one of the cars lives outside).

The carpenters kindly stacked up the reusable insulation. It’s now stacked in our garage. Count no man happy until he has a half a garage full of fiberglass insulation.

Demo Day 3: They started work on raising the collar ties so that we can have a higher ceiling. (If I can touch it while standing flat-footed, it’s too dang low.) After the carpenters left for the day, I moved all the insulation and vacuumed to reduce air gunk, both up there and in the house at large. (Lesson learned: a Dyson will not suck up a stray roofing nail.) With the insulation gone, we could really see the space, albeit by romantic work lights.

From the top of the stairs toward what used to be a carbuncle of a closet.

From the top of the stairs toward what used to be a carbuncle of a closet.



And towards one side of the eaves (by romantic work lights)

And “sideways” into an eave

One thing I love about this process (of many things — the professionalism of the crew, how fast the work is proceeding, the unimaginable HUGENESS of the dumpster) is seeing how the house was put together. The roof deck isn’t plywood, it’s made of full boards. The chimney is red brick where it shows above the roof, but inside here, it’s blonde; I’m guessing that’s a cheaper kind of brick used where it wouldn’t show. The wiring was very logically laid out, which made it super-easy to systematically cut it back. The exterior wall is wide shiplap, and there are blue chalk notes and measurements there and on many of the now-exposed surfaces.


I’m a serious geek about old-house stuff, so I can’t wait to investigate the progress each evening. The stripped-down loft is a huge improvement on the prior “finished” version, and the old wood even smells good — it’s sort of a shame to cover it up!

Posted in American vs English, Before & After, Construction, Walls & Floors | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Micro-Scale Urban Salvage

The Burns bear, perhaps the most valuable widdle bear in the world, could be anywhere. It could be in your house. You could be looking at it right now. It could be right in front of your face as I’m saying this, waggling back and forth, perhaps being held up by a loved one.

– Kent Brockman

Before the big upstairs project started, we needed to clear out all our junk. I tend to be pretty annoyed by having to move items any distance at all, preferring to give them away rather than haul them any further. I’d be a rubbish Sherpa.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/Getty

Wonder if they’d notice me ditch a few things before base camp? (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/Getty)

But before everything kicked off, I did want to salvage a few things that I thought we could use later, mainly door and window parts. It turns out, I’d also be a rubbish salvage person because (a) I’m slow, and (b) I’m made slower by my need to comment on everything I recover.


“This little hatch door is earlier than the house–I bet they bought it used when they finished the attic. Wouldn’t it be a great headboard? The mortise lock looks like someone just took it off the shelf at the hardware store. I wonder if they got it at the old hardware store they tore down last year. What was the name of that place?”

Freezer bags and markers are your very good friends when you are trying to grab stuff like this. Whenever I just pile up screws as I remove them, I always lose one and later stand on it barefoot.


If you are tearing stuff out, the area must not have too many spectacular features (yet). Even so, there are usually good things to be had.

Good stuff to salvage:

  • Door hardware: Door hinges (and hinge pins!), knobs and mortise locks.
  • Window hardware: Sash lifts and locks (on older wooden windows). The paint slides right off!
  • Doors themselves: Ours are weird sizes that won’t work in the future upstairs; we’ll donate to the Restore. If you don’t have a use for the hinges separately, leave ’em on.
  • Switch and outlet plates: Reuseable or donate-able if not damaged. I already have about 20 spare plates from two swap-out projects, but I only found two undamaged to add to the count for the Restore.
  • Smoke and CO detectors: Reuse or donate (if still good) or dispose of appropriately.

Stuff to maybe salvage for donation or sale:

  • Distinctive wood trim: definitely grab if there’s a fair bit of it and it’s stained, maybe grab if it’s painted and in good shape or if you (or someone) might be willing to strip it. Old wide trim is hard to find; the trim up here is splintery, lead paint-caked, and nothing special.
  • Paneling and shelves: ditto.
  • Clothes rods/hooks: always useful.

Stuff to salvage carefully and/or after checking with the demo crew:

  • Light fixtures: Even completely outdated but working lights are welcomed at Habitat Restores. If you have old, original fixtures, you can take them out and restore or sell them (even if inoperable). Or take them out, box and label them as original and leave them in the basement or attic for the next owner.
  • Newer working switches and receptacles: As long as there is no sign of faults or scorching, reuse or donate.
  • Newer insulation: A couple of years ago, we went to Menards on Black Friday to buy insulation. It’s practically new! We suited up (including dust masks) and gathered that stuff up to re-deploy or give away.

Here’s the upstairs all stripped down and ready for demo.


Terrible blinds left for shade — it gets hot up there on sunny days.


It’s all happening!

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