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My Lowe’s Spring Makeover: Alex and Apryl’s Backyard!

Remember a few months ago when I partnered up with Lowe’s to do a spring makeover for a reader? WELL! IT IS DONE! Wanna see?

before2

OK, this is clearly a before photo. I never make it that easy. C’mon.

This is the backyard of a rowhouse in Washington, D.C., and clearly it needed some love. This sweet young couple of first-time homeowners named Alex and Apryl bought this house roughly a year ago. They knew it needed major renovation, but thought that would take a few months and they’d be sitting pretty in their new digs by last fall, hosting Thanksgiving. That didn’t happen (sound familiar??), but after months of hard work, they’re finally reaching the finish line of overhauling the entire house! Except for one big piece of it—the backyard! Unless you count using it as a dumpster during renovation, in which case it had performed admirably. But they had bigger dreams for it. I can relate to those dreams because they are also my dreams.

Like many attached urban houses, this one has a really little backyard. I mean really little. The whole thing is only about 20 x 20 feet, but there’s a set of stairs right in the middle going to the first floor and another one down to the basement, eating up over 20% of that space! So we’re left with about 315 square feet to play with, which I think is roughly the size of most outdoor sectionals.

before1

before3

They included a few photos of the space on their application (can anyone say dreamyyyy?), as well a short list of what they wanted the space to achieve, which included:

  1. New fence.
  2. Patio pavers.
  3. An outdoor grilling/kitchen set-up with bar seating.
  4. Plenty of green space to plant.
  5. Entertaining space with comfy lounge seating, possibly set up to double as an outdoor movie theater.
  6. A fire pit hang-out zone.

All in 315 square feet. There was also mention of a soaking tub but I’m choosing to believe that was a joke. Then they showed me some inspiration images they had gathered of these GORGEOUS backyards and I got real intimidated, real fast.

Aside from the construction debris situation, I worried about the lack of barrier between the backyard and the stairs down to the basement. There ought to be some kind of railing or knee wall there to protect you from tumbling down. So I added that to the list of stuff to address.

It took me a week or two to sketch and think and hem and haw and figure out how to lay things out in these cramped quarters. With a space this size, there’s really no room to just wing it or figure it out when you get there, ya know? So here is what I came up with:

LOWE'S-DESIGN-PLAN-1

Once again, my Sketchup abilities pretty much cap out at “nearly sufficient,” but hey! There are shapes. Shapes help, I think.

Let’s go clockwise: A few evergreen trees in that skinny place next to the stairs to screen off the neighbor’s enclosed porch which is basically RIGHT there. Raised planting beds wrapping part of the side and part of the back of the yard. An outdoor sofa floated a little out from the raised beds, with a fire pit, maybe a side table, maybe a lounge chair to complete the hang-out zone. Then there’s a bar on the right side fence, with a shallow raised planting bed next to it for veggies and herbs, and right across from that there’s a grill with some prep space on both sides that sits in front of a knee wall to protect from the whole basement stair hazard situation.

Also there is a new fence and new pavers with spaces between them for either sod or a ground cover to fill in between, which I always think looks nice. Alex and Apryl knew they wanted pavers and it’s common in their area to just cover the whole outdoor space with them, but I think the gaps will make it feel so much warmer and nicer to hang out in.

Save for a couple small requests that I’ve already forgotten, Alex and Apryl were totally on board with the plan which automatically made them my favorite clients of all time. Then they claimed to be relatively handy and well-stocked in the tool department and I did some brief research on the polygamy laws in D.C., because break me off a piece of that. 

So anyway, Alex hauled the garbage to the dump and I packed up the car and drove to D.C. and it was MAKEOVER TIME.

AlexandApryl

First of all, nobody told me these people were also totally adorable. They wisely did not include a photo on their application because I would have passed immediately on the basis of not wanting to feel like a troll for an entire weekend. Clever move.

Gorgeousness aside, they could NOT have been more helpful! Day 1 was just me, the homeowners, and my friend John who generously volunteered to tag along, and Day 2 was just me and John! IT WAS ALL REALLY INTENSE.

aprylstaining

Alex and Apryl were TOTAL champs, from helping me wade through a longggg supply list at Lowe’s, to helping haul everything back to their house, to unloading and cutting and staining and assembling…it was non-stop action and there was NO WAY we would have gotten it all done without them.

Apryl, by the way? BEAST. You can kind of see a big pile of super heavy leftover concrete pavers behind her, which she moved out to the alley without so much as a water break, like it was nothing. Damn.

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The raised planting beds are simple 1×6 pressure-treated lumber that we stained with my old standby, Cabot’s Solid-Color Acrylic Siding Stain in black. I can’t say enough about how great this stuff is! Totally matte, solid, easy to work with, often fine with one coat, dries quickly, seems to work fine on pressure-treated lumber that hasn’t really had time to dry out…A+. It used to be kind of hard to find, but Lowe’s carries it now! We used 4×4 pressure-treated posts in the corners, with a few in between to keep them from bowing out and losing their shape once filled. The boards are attached to the posts with shanked siding and trim nails. I’m in the process of completing similar raised beds for my own backyard, so I’ll post a more detailed step-by-step then!

barbuilding

While I set the homeowners on staining wood, I worked on assembling the bar seating! I couldn’t find a stock option that worked for the space, so building it seemed like a good plan. I used 4×4 pressure-treated posts for the legs (it’s upside-down in this photo) and wrapped the whole thing in cedar planks, also using trim and siding nails.

By the way, to compensate for the lack of volunteers on the actual makeover weekend, Lowe’s very kindly helped coordinate having contractors come in prior to my arrival to install the fence and pavers. The pavers are set on a base of crushed stone and paver sand, which all has to be hauled in, leveled, and compacted, so just having it DONE was a HUGE help. The plan called for these 2’x2′ concrete patio stones, but those weren’t available in the D.C. store so we used 16″x16″ stones instead. Fine by me!

The fence is constructed of 4×4 pressure-treated posts with horizontal cedar boards attached, and I love how it came out! The cedar decreases in size as you move from the bottom to the top, and we left it untreated to allow it to fade to a silvery-grey in the next few years. If Alex and Apryl decide they don’t want that, they can always seal it to maintain its natural tone longer, but personally I like the faded look.

As the sun was setting on Day 1, we all went back to Lowe’s and bought plants! I was a little nervous about this part because we were just totally at the mercy of what the Lowe’s nursery would have in stock, but luckily we weren’t short on options. I’m glad the homeowners got to be involved in this part because I know they like what we planted. We did our best to choose plants that ranged in size and were appropriate for the different light conditions in the yard, and I can happily report that apparently everything is still alive and thriving! YAY!

BanisterProcess

We didn’t really do anything to the house itself aside from replace the light fixture next to the door, but I couldn’t just leave this sad iron railing alone, could I? It was covered in chipping paint, which John did an AMAZING job of removing with a wire-brush attachment to my drill. It’s best to use a corded drill for this kind of thing, since a battery-powered one will die pretty quickly. We masked everything off with plastic and hit it with a few coats of glossy black Rustoleum spray paint, and it looks sooooo goooood.

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Day 2 with just John and me was mildly insane! I think that poor guy made 3 different trips to Lowe’s to get enough bags of soil to fill those big raised beds, and mulch to top them off…I think 160 bags in all, which works out to about 6,400 POUNDS OF SOIL. WHICH WE MOVED. BAG BY BAG. From the shelves of Lowe’s, into the trunk of my car, from the trunk of my car across a sidewalk, up a set of stairs into the house, across the living room and dining room and kitchen, down a set of stairs and into the yard. FUN. TIMES. Anyway, we used a mix of topsoil and garden soil to fill the beds, so those plants should be mighty happy for years to come. We then used a nice thick layer of black mulch (of course we did!) to top everything off.

Then Alex and Apryl got home and they were all:

alexandaprylreveal

Because their backyard used to look like this:

before1

And now it looks like this:

aerialafter

Not bad for a couple days of super intense work, am I right??

after1

Let’s take a walk around, shall we?

before2

after2

The real star of the show here is that fire pit, which Alex and Apryl made a while ago from a washing machine drum they found at the dump! People after my own heart, let me tell you. I don’t think they’d ever actually gotten to USE the thing, so being able to light that inaugural fire was an honor.

Also, I love fire. Some people call it a problem. I don’t.

yellowchair

How cute is that sunny lemon yellow adirondack chair? SEE?! I LIKE COLOR. I kind of want a couple for myself, but don’t tell anyone or I’ll ruin my rep.

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bed2

I’m so thrilled with how the raised beds came out! I tried to plant things so that there was a nice mix of textures, colors, and height, but leaving enough room for things to fill in over time. It’s oddly hard to lay out raised beds! These are only two feet deep, so you can do some layering but not a ton. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know the names of everything we planted, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that my readers are kinda brilliant so if you have specific questions on plantings, shout them out in the comments and hopefully someone smarter than me can come to your rescue.

ajuga

We filled in between the pavers with the same topsoil/garden soil mix and planted ajuga all over the place between the stones. Ajuga should do well in their low light conditions, and it’s hearty enough to take kind of a beating with foot traffic. I want updated photos in a couple years when things really fill in!

pillows

The sectional and pillows are all from Lowe’s! Look at those trendy-ass pillows! So cute. Lowe’s carries such a nice selection of pillows that are super easy to mix and match, and the quality seems great. I used these and these and these. The sofa is this one!

bar2

The bar seating worked out! I don’t have a lot of experience building furniture, but it’s solid and pretty and I like it! The top is nominal 1×2 cedar with about 1/4″ space in between (I used my iPhone as a spacer because I’m a pro, haha), so rainwater should be able to easily drain through.

It was pretty dark by the time we were ready for the full reveal, so I came back the next day to take more after pictures. Because I am Blogger and I couldn’t help myself, they are staged somewhat like a fake party. Forgive me.

bar

The bar seating area got rounded out with these simple stools, which look like wood but are really plastic! The quality is great. The bar area comfortably seats three, and the stools can easily be stowed underneath if they ever have a bash where they just want to just use the table as a bar space. I love how many people you can comfortably fit in this yard now!

grillarea

One of the areas I’m MOST proud of is the grill area! I built a knee wall anchored to the brick masonry wall next to the stairs, which accomplishes the safety goal I discussed earlier. ALSO! One of the things I never really thought about is that grills generally aren’t that deep, but opening the top drastically increases the depth…making them difficult to place in small spaces, because you can’t place them against the wall without floating them out a foot or so. I built the knee wall so that it was low enough for the grill top to flip over the back of it, meaning the grill can sit right up against it and doesn’t take up any extra space when open. Hooray!

alex

We used this Weber grill but removed the side panel made for prep space to allow for more space for this custom prep space. How many times can I say “space” in a single sentence? That many times.

prepspace

Here’s a glamor shot of the prep area, because typically you are cutting up asparagus and watermelon at the same time. Right? I’ve never been to a barbecue.

watermelon

So the back of the knee wall matches the planters and the top of the prep space matches the bar and the fence and I’m so predictable, but…it took some self-restraint to not go CRAZY on this little space and do all sorts of different things. I feel like the result is nicely balanced with a good repetition of materials and finishes. Or something.

hosestorage

Underneath the prep space is the hose, so Alex and Apryl can keep all this stuff alive! I love these coiled hoses especially for small spaces—it does the job and fits easily into a cute perforated metal bucket. There’s plenty more space for extra propane tanks, and it would be easy for them to add a shelf if they wanted.

vegetablebed

The raised bed across from the grill area worked out so well! It’s about a foot and a half deep and 8 feet long, so there’s a nice amount of space to grow herbs and vegetables. Here they have rosemary, mint, basil, a couple different types of peppers, and thyme. I can see a tomato plant or two doing well here, too. Alex and Apryl were advised that the mint might need to be transferred to a pot to keep it from overtaking everything.

By the way…I know there’s a negative knee-jerk reaction to using pressure-treated lumber for beds made for edibles, but from everything I’ve read about it, it sounds like the risk of chemicals leaching into the soil is extremely minimal to non-existent. The process used to create pressure-treated lumber has changed dramatically in recent years, so the risks associated with it no longer seem to apply. Only the top course of the planters are stained, so the stain’s contact with the soil is also very minimal.

drinkdispensor

Ahhhhh, I can taste it now! Here’s my favorite cocktail, which is one part bourbon and one part…oh wait, never mind, it’s just watered down Brisk Iced Tea with some lemons and ice floating in it. #blogger

russiansage

Let’s take a look at the plants! I love Russian Sage. It has such a great color and texture.

hydrangea

In the corner, there’s a nice hydrangea that should fill out beautifully and provide some nice height up in that corner.

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foxglove1

Foxgloves are peppered around the planters, which I LOVE. I LOVE THEM. Why don’t I have any foxgloves yet?? Working on it. They’ll have to be a front garden plant for me, as they’re toxic for dogs.

cypress

Next to the steps up to the house, we planted this sweet cypress tree. The Sketchup plan shows three trees here, but that was crazy, so we just did one to give it room to grow and spread out. Hopefully it’ll provide a little privacy screening from the neighbors as it continues to mature.

candle

Between the tree and the raised beds, we planted some ornamental grasses. So pretty! I think they’ll really fill in this area nicely as they mature.

throughgate

So there it is! I’m so happy with how this came out. Alex and Apryl, I hope you get to enjoy it for years and years to come! You couldn’t have been more gracious and wonderful hosts. Thank you for making this so much fun!

Psssst…want to see the other Lowe’s Spring Makeovers? Head on over to…

Yellow Brick Home’s living room transformation

Chris Loves Julia’s entryway/sitting room makeover

French Country Cottage’s outdoor living space 

Emily A. Clark’s patio overhaul

Design Post Interior’s patio makeover

Wit & Delight’s artist’s studio makeover

Simple Styling’s backyard makeover

 

This post has been in partnership with my wonderful sponsors, Lowe’s

I Did Another Thing!

TDBankDKBoard

Remember about a month ago when I did a Thing and that Thing was presenting on the topic of DIY at the New England Home Show? Well I did it again, this time down on Long Island, and this time outdoors, and this time they had me cut my presentation down a little and answer more questions about renovation stuff.

TDBankVan

Here’s what the Thing is: TD Bank has teamed up with HGTV Magazine to go around the country on what they call the TD Bank Rolling Renovation. This flashy car photographed above is driven by a couple of very nice men who evidently never sleep, because essentially everyday they have to set this whole thing up, work an event, pack it all up, and drive to some other faraway place to do it all over again. I’m very fascinated by these very nice men, because I have to imagine that they’re surviving on a diet of Red Bull and more Red Bull but they still manage to be so nice.

At a lot of the stops, HGTV and TD Bank have lined up people to give presentations and Q&A sessions. Sometimes it’s a blogger. Sometimes it’s that hunky blonde guy from DIY Network. Sometimes it’s a hunky blogger, who is me.

TDBankiPads

The point of the Thing is to help spread the good word about TD Bank’s Home Equity Lines of Credit. It’s all very civil and not-gross—there are people there to give information and answer questions, a sweepstakes you can enter, small prizes to win, and games to play on those iPads. They don’t take personal information so they can’t bombard you with junk mail later and the point is not to get anyone to sign up for anything right then and there, even if they want to—nary an application or anything like that in sight. It’s more like, “here’s this interesting way that you can finance stuff, and we offer a pretty sweet deal, and also here’s an iPad with games and a blogger to talk to!” Nothing wrong with getting some information and a free tape measure, am I right? I like information. The Thing is not a bad way to spend a little time on a sunny Sunday afternoon on Long Island. Especially when you arrive an hour early and have unexpected time to go to the adjacent mall to buy pants.

Not that I know anything about that, because I am a professional who brings my own pants.

Even though all I was hired to do was give a couple of presentations and answer questions about renovating—how to choose a contractor, what to tackle yourself, what to do first, how to avoid buying a money-draining nightmare of a property (thank you for teaching me so much, Olivebridge Cottage), that kind of thing—hanging around the TD Bank Rolling Renovation set-up was actually pretty informative for me in terms of thinking about how to finance all this stuff. If you need a wall covered in subway tile, I’m pretty good for that kind of thing, but I’m basically a toddler when it comes to understanding semi-complicated things with money. In general, it’s like this:

  1. I get paid.
  2. I pay for stuff.
  3. I put some money away for later to pay for other stuff.
  4. I charge stuff for which I don’t have enough money to pay but still need.

That is my financial planning. It is not the most advanced.

But what I do have is a house, and because the initial purchase price was very low and I took out a proportionately small loan to pay for it, I actually don’t owe that much money on my house. But I have poured a lot of cash money and time and hard work into my house, and it’s worth a lot more than I bought it for, which I guess means I have a lot of this thing they call equity, which I literally had to google a few years ago because I had no idea what it actually meant. Thing is, it’s been almost three years and I still have a lot of work to do on this sucker, and honestly? Some of it I just want to be DONE. You know I’m all about that crazy renovation lifestyle, but what I might be more about is having a renovated bathroom or a bedroom without crumbling walls or even something crazy like a guest bedroom I don’t have to apologize for. I’m not saying, like, finish the whole house in four weeks, but having someone hand me a big ole’ check that I get to repay over time, in exchange for some of this invisible equity thing I have, at a pretty low interest rate, to knock a few major things off the list that will drastically improve my quality of life? It kinda sounds good?

People ask me a lot of questions about renovating old houses, many of which I now feel equipped to answer, but I’m pretty much useless when it comes to ones pertaining to financing and I’m probably doing all sorts of things wrong. Maybe this is not the kind of thing to be discussing on my blog, but I’m genuinely curious: is a home equity line of credit something you’ve done? How’d that go? Any other financing tips you care to share, for those of us that are not so financially savvy? Since I’m worthless as a resource on this topic, I’d love if the comments section on this post could be a better one!

This post is in partnership with TD Bank and HGTV Magazine! All text, photos, opinions, and confusion about grown-up things are my own. 

 

Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s: Who Wants a Makeover?!

Have you ever thought to yourself “hey, I wish Daniel (that’s me, FYI) would show up at my door and do a whirlwind makeover of a space in my house“? You probably have not had that thought. But start thinking it? Because it could totally happen!

When my friendly sponsors at Lowe’s reached out and asked if I’d like to pass some Lowe’s love along to a Manhattan Nest reader this spring, I hopped on it! Because I like you guys! Sounds fun! Sign me up!

LowesSpringMakeover

If you read my blog, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Lowe’s is pretty much my home away from home. I tend to be at my local Lowe’s several times a week, and they always impress me with their knowledgeable and friendly staff, and quality products to match.  It seems a little silly to feel that way about a big box store, but when you’re in and out of hardware stores as much as I am, you come to appreciate the small stuff. Going to pick up that extra tube of caulk or box of finish nails can be a drag, but those trips aren’t so bad when I get to catch up with Deb in the garden center, or Keith in doors and windows, or Sue at check-out, or Frank in appliances, or Sexy Ron who sometimes helps me with lumber. On top of that, Lowe’s carries a lot of seriously cute and nice stuff! I think a lot of people tend to think of Lowe’s as a place to by 2x4s and drywall screws, but I’m always super impressed by their collection of all sorts of home goods, lighting, outdoor stuff—it’s become a pretty indispensable resource in my life and one of the first places I look for…well, kind of anything!

SO! Lowe’s is teaming up with me (and seven other great bloggers!) to do a spring makeover for one of you! Do you have a back deck in need of some TLC? A boring bathroom that needs a pick-me-up? Maybe you just moved into your house and really want something checked off the list? Maybe you’ve been there a while and are stuck on what to do with that pesky guest bedroom? Let’s fix it!

Here’s how it works: I get to choose one applicant for a makeover! Sorry, international readers—you gotta be within the US and within reasonable proximity to a Lowe’s store. The makeover can be interior or exterior, but should be contained to one space—like a room, a backyard, a front yard, you get the idea. After choosing an applicant, I’ll work with you to design up the space and then Lowe’s will bring me right to your door to make it happen. I’ll have a robust team of Lowe’s helpers at my disposal, and all of us will have a day or two to make your space totally awesome with the healthy product budget they’ve provided to get her done. Sound like a plan? Great!

Ground Rules:

  1. You should be looking to fix up a space within your residence!
  2. The makeover project should be able to be completed within 24 hours.
  3. You must be the owner of your own home (sorry, renters! it’s a legal thing).
  4. You have to be outgoing, energetic, and fun with unique stories to tell!
  5. You have to be comfortable been on camera and/or interviewed by media.
  6. You have to be in need of expert design help from one of the participating bloggers (pick me!).
  7. You have to be able to make quick decisions in order to keep within the tight time constraints.
  8. You have to be available for a 2-day period to complete the makeover, which will take place between February 9th and May 1.
  9. You have to allow photos of your home to be shared online.
  10. You must be 21 years of age or older to apply.
  11. You have to complete the online application form and agree to the Terms below.
  12. To apply, visit: lowesspringmakeover2016.castingcrane.com
  13. Only eligible participants will be contacted.

ApplyHere

To apply for your Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s Spring Makeover, click here! Applications will only be accepted from now until THIS WEDNESDAY at 11:59 p.m. EST, so hurry your cutie booty along and get to applying!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

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Fixing the Back of the House: Part 1!

 

insulation4

So…I kind of dove head-first into fixing the back of my house.

step1

Quick refresh: it looked kind of like this after the big mudroom addition came down. Not adorable! After removing the vinyl siding, it became very clear that I needed to do something with the door and the window on the second floor, since they’re clearly later additions that are neither functional nor attractive.

So the plan became a classic rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme: I’d tear out the double casement window in the kitchen, replace it with a cheap stop-gap window (down the line it’ll get a nice, enlarged 6-over-6 to match the rest of the house), and split the casement sashes into two individual windows for the second story—one on each side of the chimney running up that wall. As you can see from the pictures, all of this would involve a lot of clapboard patching. Patching clapboard is kind of like patching wood floors or something—you don’t want to end up with an obvious patch, so you need to feather your boards so they vary in length and joints are staggered.

I was planning on re-siding just the top half of this wall to accomplish this, and leave the bottom half intact since the clapboards (especially the green parts) were in relatively good condition, just with a ton of old crusty paint that needed to be scraped and stuff before repainting.

Peelaway

I had this idea that I’d use Peel Away, which is a great chemical stripper that’s widely used in restoration projects. It’s basically a thick paste that you apply fairly liberally and cover with their special magic wax paper and leave for about 24 hours. I decided to do a test sample before committing to the whole wall to see how it would work.

peelaway2

After about 24 hours, you start, well, peeling away. The paste stripper binds pretty well with both the paint and the wax paper, so it all kind of sloughs off in chunks.

peelaway3

So, it worked…okay. Since the green part of the wall was inside the mudroom for so many years, it only seems to have a couple coats of paint on it and the Peel Away worked flawlessly there. The white part, though, has about a billion layers of paint…and caulk…and tar. I guess as boards began to split or rot, a previous owner opted to smear them with tar which is super sticky and probably not the greatest substrate for new paint.

Peel Away is very effective on paint but doesn’t really do anything to caulk or tar, so I was left with decent but not great results. I figured I’d do it anyway and then just scrape and sand a LOT to get things ready for repainting, which sounded like the opposite of fun but short of replacing all the clapboard I wasn’t sure what else I could do.

windowpainting2

While I mulled over that, I shifted my focus to replacing the window. I told you, nothing fancy! The idea was to buy a replacement window that would fit in the frame of the old window so I wouldn’t have to do anything crazy like totally re-frame and redo the trim on the outside and destroy my kitchen on the inside and all that.

I found a window that was the right dimensions at Lowe’s, where somebody had special ordered it and then returned it. Since it’s a non-standard size, Lowe’s unloads these at a deep discount…I guess this window would have run about $175 for the person who bought it, but it was mine for about $25! Cool.

windowpainting3

Even though I think of this window as temporary, it’s going to be on the house long enough that I figured I could put a little extra effort into making it look better, so I also picked up a can of gloss black spray paint (Valspar brand that said it would work on plastic), covered the glass with paper and tape, roughed up the plastic a little with a sanding block, and hit it with a few coats of paint. I think it looks WAY better and since the other windows on the house are already black, I think it helps it blend a little more even though it’s vinyl.

newwindow

When it came to actually putting in the new window…I messed up. I measured wrong! So the window that was supposed to fit in the old frame to make my life easier did not, and I didn’t want to go out and buy a new window and eat the (small, but still) cost of the new window that I’d already spray-painted. Doh! So the old frame came out, the old exterior trim came off, and I furred out the framing so the new window would fit snugly. I also managed to install it 100% by myself (turns out it’s kind of hard to hoist a big window into its rough opening, make it level, and screw it into place with only two hands) which I was pretty proud about.

ANYWAY. As you can see, at this point I’d removed a fair amount of the old siding to redo the trim around the new window, and I was finding that taking down the siding intact wasn’t so bad.

tar

I was also noticing more and more that the condition of the old clapboard was not good. This is an area under the window where the siding meets the cornerboards, which was so caked in old paint and tar that it didn’t really even resemble wood anymore. Argh. I actually kind of like when old clapboard houses have that scale-y texture from being scraped and repainted over the years, but this level of disrepair seemed a bit beyond that and not a good candidate for scraping and repainting.

clapboardremoval1

So one thing led to another.

clapboardremoval2

And I took down all the clapboard.

A couple of years ago, seeing the house like this probably would have sent me into major panic mode…but I gotta say, this was all kind of fun and thrilling. Like, oopsie! Now I just have to fix it! No biggie!

You’ll notice that my house doesn’t have any sheathing at all, which would typically be between the studs and the clapboard. In my case, sheathing either came later or just hadn’t really hit Kingston yet…I don’t tend to see it on houses around here that were built before about 1890. My house and a lot of others is just clapboard nailed to the studs.

You might also be wondering what the hell all that brick is about? Well I’ll tell you. It’s called nogging, and was a fairly common practice during the 19th century. Basically the frame of the house would be built, clapboard applied to the outside, and then the wall cavities between the studs would be filled with brick and mortar from the inside before the lath and plaster went up. Crazy, right? It’s not structural—instead it was a form of insulation and pest-proofing, since rats and mice aren’t super keen on chewing through bricks.

The problem with the nogging is several-fold. Firstly, as insulation it has an R-value of less than 1, so it’s not all that different than just having no insulation. Because the walls are already jam-packed with this stuff, there really isn’t any way to install better insulation without removing it all, but access to it is the obvious issue since tearing off all the clapboard sounds mildly insane and tearing out all the necessary plaster inside would be a huge amount of energy and expense and, to me at least—lover of plaster walls—super sad for the house. The nogging is made out of what are called “salmon bricks,” which are basically garbage bricks that weren’t close enough to the heat as they were getting fired, or broke during production or transport…stuff like that. The vast majority of them do not hold up to any kind of moisture—instead, they absorb it like a sponge and then break and crumble, which is not really the kind of thing you want lurking behind your walls!

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ANYWAY. It’s the 21st century! We have lots of insulation options now that are better at insulating than garbage bricks. The nicest option is closed-cell spray foam, but it’s also really expensive, and would ideally be done from the inside in a larger application than this to make it worth it. Normal fiberglass bat is also an option but I was concerned about how it would fare on a wall without sheathing—it has a tendency to kind of compress itself and become useless when exposed to moisture and it’s no fun to work with. I read online somewhere about using a combination of rigid foam insulation and canned spray foam, and that seemed like the best option for here.

So I picked up some 4’x8′ sheets that are 2″ thick and supposed to have an R-value of 10. I know 10 is still fairly low but it’s a huge improvement, and I think one that makes sense for a house that will always be somewhat drafty no matter what. Each sheet was about $35 (I used 5 on this wall for both levels) so the price was also manageable.

The process of installing the foam insulation was really simple: measure the width (each was a little different), rip it down on the table saw, and put it in place. They fit snugly enough that no other fasteners were required.

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After a bunch of panels were in place, it was time for the Great Stuff! Great Stuff is, well, pretty great for sealing gaps and cracks. I sprayed it around each edge of the foam panels and waited for it to expand and dry. It served kind of a dual function of locking the panels in place and really buttoning up the whole installation.

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Before re-siding, I went around and used my handy flush cut saw to remove parts of the spray foam that had expanded past the studs. It’s also easy to cut this stuff with a box cutter. Just make sure it’s dry, because spray foam is a sticky nightmare if it isn’t.

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OK! SO! Finally it was time for the magic to happen! I had my pile of boards that I’d removed from the house, and then more clapboards I was hoarding in the basement that came off of the mudroom when I tore that down.

I experimented with a few different methods of trying to safely and relatively easily remove the paint/caulk/tar special plaguing most of these boards, and all of them basically sucked.

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Until…the planer!! I bought this DeWalt planer secondhand about a year ago for something else. It’s a really fun tool to own because the gratification is so instant and the transformation is so dramatic! I hooked it up directly to my ShopVac fitted with a HEPA filter (VERY important because there is definitely lead paint involved), put on a respirator and some ear protection, and started feeding boards through.

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DUDES. SO EXCITING. Each board took about 2-4 passes, but being able to totally strip down 10 or 12 foot lengths of clapboard in about a minute? Awesome.

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So the boards go in one side looking like this.

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And out the other looking like this. Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

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The ShopVac set-up was very effective, by the way. Small paint chips still escaped but the vast majority got sucked right into the ShopVac and most importantly it was extremely good at keeping the really fine dust out of the air. No system of dealing with lead paint is perfect but I feel good about this one.

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The final step in prepping the boards for installation was to run them through the table saw to shave off just the tiniest amount on the bottom of each board where there was still paint, since only the face of the boards got planed.

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The actual installation went surprisingly fast and was totally fun and made me feel like a cool wizard. I used this DeWalt siding and trim nail gun (borrowed from Edwin…have I mentioned how great it is to live next door to a friendly contractor?) fitted with 2″ siding nails. The nail gun was essential since I was alone, but even with another set of hands I can’t really imagine nailing all of this by hand. It’s extremely important to use nails specifically for siding—framing or finishing nails will rust.

By the way, I considered adding sheathing and weather wrap but nixed it because I didn’t want to add thickness to the wall and then end up with my clapboards protruding past the elements of the cornice at the top of the wall. I know that might seem iffy but this is how the house was built and I guess it’s been fine so far.

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To conserve as much material as possible, I laid out all my available boards in order of size (this was the area for small boards—there was another for medium-sized boards and another for the really long guys). That way I could easily find the piece closest in length to the one I needed and end up with a smaller off-cut. This project generated really little waste, which always feels good!

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After selecting my board, it was over to the chop saw to cut it to length! A lot of the boards had really rotted or split ends but were fine in the middle, so I’d usually cut a little off of each end.

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The boards are about 6″ wide (they vary) but the reveal is 5.25″. To keep the reveals consistent, I just ripped a piece of scrap wood down to 5.25″ and used it as a guide to correctly place each board.

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With each run I tried to pay special attention to where the joints would fall in relation to the previous boards so that they’d look staggered and random. The disadvantage of doing things this way is that you want to get rid of any “bad” parts of each  board, so I ended up with more butt joints than there used to be, but I’m OK with that if it means being able to retain the original boards.

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Not bad for wood that’s been outside for 150 or so years, am I right?

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I’m so happy with the way this project is shaping up! Wait until you see the top half…it’s not totally done yet (some painting and caulking still to go…) but I think it’s going to look great.

So, am I crazy? I honestly feel like I could do the whole house this way (maybe tweaking some parts of the process)—restoring the clapboard and insulating one wall at a time. Right?

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Lowe’s has kindly provided me with merchandise credit, but specific product selections, opinions, designs, and stupid ideas are all mine.

Fence Staining!

If you’ve gone through a major renovation project and you live in a place with seasons, you might know what this time of year feels like. There was a time in my life when fall was my favorite season, but now it’s all stress and craziness and just trying to get everything OK for the impending winter. It’s not like everything comes to a screeching halt in these upcoming cold months, but cold and snow are definitely added challenges that don’t make anything any easier. Multiply that by three houses (yes, Bluestone and Olivebridge Cottages are still in the works…exciting updates to share on both fronts, FINALLY!) and you’ve got yourself one crazy, nervous little blogger person who is me. Hey, October? YOU WERE BANANAS. Hey, November? You don’t seem much different. Just darker.

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That’s not really the point of this post, though. The point of this post is my fence. Remember my fence? To review, I used to have a really awful chainlink fence until the nice professional installers from Lowe’s came to replace it with a nice simple wood dog-ear style privacy fence that I love. It was maybe the single biggest quick improvement this house has seen to its exterior bits under my care. Now my backyard is pleasantly private and my house almost looks fancy from the street, which is unusual and thrilling after living with chain-link surrounding my property for 2+ years.

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Last year, I built a short (in comparison—it’s still 30-ish feet long) section of fencing to demarcate the front yard from the back, and I stained it with an opaque black stain. Black might seem like a weird, goth-y, ominous, bold, scary, whatever kind of a choice, but I think in this context it works. Greenery, which I keep adding more and more of, looks great against the backdrop of the black fence, and I think the color helps offset the white house by allowing everything else to recede. It was one of those things that I figured I’d try out—worse case scenario, I could spend a day painting over it with a different color, but I ended up feeling glad I trusted my instincts because I really love it. No regrets!

handpainting

After living with my black fence for a while and really liking it, I committed to doing the rest of the fence to match. I may have underestimated how arduous of a process that would be. Staining both sides of 200 linear feet of fencing (2,400 square feet, with nooks and crannies all the way) is a big job, just in case that wasn’t impeccably obvious to everybody except me.

I started the staining process by working between a roller and a 3″ angle brush. It was taking a long time. One side of each panel took maybe half an hour (more?) and I quickly started to feel like this was a really bad plan that I wish I hadn’t signed up for.

edwinspraying

Then Edwin got home, saw me working, and immediately offered the use of his paint sprayer. A paint sprayer! What a guy. So he retrieved it from his basement and brought it over with a slice of watermelon for each of us and taught me how to use this magic futuristic device.

I’ve always written off paint sprayers as being more trouble than they’re worth and a big waste of paint (or stain, as the case may be), but YOU GUYS. It was so amazing. I don’t feel like I can really justify buying one for myself (this is the kind of tool you really don’t want to skimp on, and I guess the good ones are several hundred bucks), but if I ever have a really huge project where it’d come in handy and save me lots of time and money, I’d budget for it for sure.

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Holy cow, this poor backyard. I promise I’ve really cleaned it up since this picture was taken. Mostly.

The trick with the sprayer, by the way, is very short, consistent strokes that sort of “feather” in and out at the ends. It’s harder than it looks or sounds and definitely takes a little practice to get into the groove of it, so I’m glad I got to get my sea legs on the fence with a product that’s really forgiving—if I sprayed it on too thick in sections, it was easy to just back-brush the excess and move on, and you can’t tell once it’s all dry. Since the wood is so rough, there wasn’t really any need to back-brush to avoid that sprayed-on finish that can look bad on the siding of a house, for instance.

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ALSO! Sprayers are, well, sprayers, so you have to be very cautious of what’s around you when you’re using them! Professional painters actually need additional insurance to use sprayers because of the risk of overspray messing up someone’s car or house or whatever. One area of my fence is very close to the neighbor’s house so I switched to hand-brushing for those sections, but masking off her house with plastic would have also worked.

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Anyway! Even with the sprayer, staining the whole thing took several days of 3-4 hour sessions, but I got it done! You can kind of see some lighter spots in this picture so after I was done I just went around and did touch-ups where necessary, and that was pretty much it!

cabotstain

Let’s talk for a minute about this stain? I used about 15 gallons of stain for this project, but the friendly folks at Cabot decided to help a brother out and send me 8 cans on them! So nice. I love this Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain—it’s such good stuff. This is the same product I used on the other section of fencing last year, which still looks basically like the day it was done. Unlike any stain that I’m used to using, it has about the same consistency as a normal can of paint and the application is the same (you don’t need to wipe off excess or anything, like when you stain a piece of furniture), but it seems to really soak into the wood more than paint would and provides a really nice, totally opaque and totally matte finish. Because it’s water-based, clean-up is just like a normal latex paint and it cooperated beautifully with the sprayer! I think opaque stain is such a great alternative to paint especially when you’re dealing with pressure-treated lumber, which is typically supposed to dry out for several months before being treated especially with normal paint. Even after letting PT lumber dry out for longer than the recommended period, I’ve had a couple experiences now with regular (but high quality) exterior paint flaking and peeling after only a few months, but never with this stuff.

By the way, you also don’t need to prime—in fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. This goes right on the wood. According to the folks at Cabot, it can also be used to cover previously painted or stained surfaces too, which is pretty cool. I’ve only ever used it on fencing, but I also wonder if I should be using it on the clapboard on my house, except in white. Since it still allows the wood to breathe, it seems like it would last much longer than paint without peeling? Hmmmmmm. It might be worth buying a gallon just to see how it looks…

The coverage is also really amazing—I was concerned before starting that I’d need at least two coats but it just took one (!) to achieve the deep, even finish I wanted. YAY!

Cabot products used to be sort of tricky to find, but they recently started selling them at Ace Hardware locations nationwide which is great. Cabot for everyone!

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This picture was taken while the stain was still drying (which is fast—totally dry in about 30-45 minutes) but check it out! I really didn’t mind the way that the wood fence looked with the black garage, but knowing how it would weather makes me glad I pulled the trigger on treating it this way.

postcaps

The final piece was staining all the little post caps! These are just these simple wood post caps from Lowe’s that I think REALLY finish off a fence. I think functionally they’re supposed to extend the life of the posts by creating a peaked surface on top for rain and snow to run off of (much like the roof on a house), but aesthetically they also just make the fence look fancier and more finished.

I used the sprayer to get a good coat on the tops of each cap, but ended up staining each one with a brush so I could get into all the nooks and bottom edges and all that.

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Post caps have a little adhesive strip inside of them to hold them securely to the posts, but they don’t seem particularly strong so I added some construction adhesive (liquid nails) to them before putting them in place. I placed all of them pretty quickly and then went back around and hammered them down with a rubber mallet to get them level and really set on the posts.

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So! Here we were back when I bought the house…

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And today! There’s still some serious landscaping that needs to happen even here, but I’m really happy overall with this as a foundation to work off of.

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Those garage windows look a little funny because they’re sort of blown out in the photo, but there’s actually a cute ticking stripe fabric on the inside of the windows. I’ve been so busy and just wanted to get SOMETHING up so I rummaged through my extra fabric bin and pulled out this window shade I bought a while ago for a couple bucks (just for the fabric) and it was enough to cover all four windows. It’s just stapled to the door on the inside…it’s like the OPPOSITE of fancy but it looks nice from the outside and more importantly doesn’t expose folks on the sidewalk to the jumbled mess on the inside of the garage…

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Also, I wired some lights on the garage! I like them! I don’t love them, but I like them! I ended up ordering the Harbor Sconce from Restoration Hardware during a sale. This is the large size in “weathered zinc”—the finish is kind of super lame and faux-looking in person, but the shape is cute and they look fine and sometimes fine is…fine. The bulbs are LED faux-edison bulbs which I LOVE because they are so super hokey but they really look good at night and the light is so warm and glow-y. The lights are on a timer switch (found at Home Depot) so they come on and off more or less with sunset and sunrise. Boom!

I know people have problems with exterior lights at night from a light pollution and environmental standpoint, but these have been met with GREAT enthusiasm from the neighbors. This is still an urban area, and this is a small under-lit cross-street—beyond just looking cute, a reasonable amount of light at night actually improves public safety, so I’m glad to have done this.

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So here was the house about a year and a half ago, all chain-linked and mudroom-ed and white garage-d.

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And today! I feel like the absence of the lush summer foliage isn’t making this comparison as dramatic as I want it to be, but whatever. You get the idea! This side of the house has a MAJOR makeover ahead of it, but it’s come a long way! And I really do feel like the black fence and garage go a long way toward sort of visually isolating the house and letting that be the focal point, which is kinda the goal.

In case you’re thinking this, I’m thinking it too: the contrast is TOO stark. It’s this big wash of white, and then this big wash of black, and that is not the intent nor do I think it looks particularly good as it stands. There are two major things that I totally believe will fix this:

  1. The fence and garage need to be softened. Everyone will tell me I’m an idiot, but fuck it: I’m going to let some english ivy do its climb-y thing on that sidewalk-facing side of the fence. I know it’ll spread. I know it’ll be hard or impossible to get rid of. I know it’s bad for the wood on the fence. I want it anyway. I’ll guard it from the house with my life, but the fence needs something to naturalize it into the landscape and I think it also needs that shot of traditionalism that ivy would offer. It would also be nice all winter, and…well, that’s that.
  2. The house needs more black accents! The house itself will stay white, but it’s very traditional for Greek Revival houses to have black (or dark green) windows, shutters, and doors. My window sashes are already black (whatever previous owner did that, thanks a bunch!), but the storm windows are yucky 70s aluminum and the shutters are longggg gone. Spray-painting the frames of the storms will make a bigger difference than you’d think, and I’m determined to get shutters back on this baby! Doing shutters “right” is one expensive endeavor—let me tell you—but of course I want them to all be sized correctly, with period-appropriate hardware and the correct style and all that. Bad shutters are a big pet peeve of mine so it might be a while until I can splurge on that exciting improvement, but let’s all just keep it in the back of our brains, cool?

 This post is in collaboration with Cabot! Cabot generously provided a portion of the products used here but all opinions and stuff are my own, like I do.

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