Summer House Projects 2015 — Part III – House Painting

This is the 3rd and final installment in my “what I did around the house this summer” series…the first two can be found here (garden project) and here (driveway project).

Project #3 – Repaint the House

This was a project that revealed itself the first winter we lived in the house (we’ve been there 2 years and some change now).  On the north side of the house, the first couple times we got torrential autumn rains, the paint started bubbling all across the siding.  Once the weather dried out, the bubbles slowly went down, but it made one thing abundantly clear–there was a problem with our paint job.  It wasn’t too bad over the winter, so we figured we’d scrape the siding and repaint the next summer, but we never got around to doing that since it wasn’t too terrible…probably a poor choice in retrospect, but we’re new at this!

The second winter revealed even more paint issues on that wall.  The paint that bubbled the year before started peeling and cracking off in large sheets (some as large as 6-8″ pieces–crazy!), and it only got worse.

Here’s the worst side, just after we power washed. All the white/brown you see is where the paint bubbled off. Grrrr.

We decided we absolutely would have to redo the paint in our second summer, especially since we knew the house had last been painted sometime between November and February (the flippers only had it a few months before we first saw it).  That timeframe is really terrible conditions for exterior painting (it should be at least 55 degrees out, and I can prettymuch guarantee that doesn’t happen in Minnesota in those 4 months).  So the root of our problem was likely a paint job that happened when it was too cold for the paint to adhere properly.

We have a friend in the paint business, so we borrowed a color book and mulled over different color schemes–we figured while we were at it, we might as well paint the house a color we like better (neither of us is big on yellow).  We settled on a dark charcoal grey with a bright red trim.  When John lived in Norway, he really loved the traditional houses there that had cedar shake siding covered in pitch with red trim–and I agree, it’s very pretty, especially when it snows.  However, we have cementboard siding, not cedar shakes, so covering the house in pitch wasn’t really an option.  Charcoal grey paint sounded like a good compromise, though!

The first step was getting all the old paint off.  We decided instead of scraping the siding, we’d power wash anything that was loose off, then use a bonding primer that would essentially glue all the remaining layers of paint to the cement board.  This saved us a good bit of work, and since we don’t know what the makeup of our siding is (some cementboard has asbestos, & we’re pretty sure ours is in that group based on the age), we wouldn’t risk inhaling asbestos as we scraped and sanded. Pressure washing took us an entire day (and it was soooo cold…it was mid-August, but the day we rented the equipment dawned windy and 55 degrees…and it didn’t get much warmer).  We survived, though, and got a ton of loose paint off the house.

John up on the ladder on a cold, cold, August day.

Our next step was the primer.  We decided to prime everything: siding, trim, gutters, soffit, flashing, you name it.  We were lucky enough to have a variety of ladders and a few friends to help, but we had to use brushes and rollers because our paint sprayer wouldn’t handle the bonding primer (seriously, that stuff was the consistency of instant pudding–soooo thick and gloopy).  So it took a while (a 3-day weekend) to get all the primer applied. We were really fastidious about getting it anywhere we’d had issues with peeling paint, less so everywhere else.


And of course, in the process, we uncovered a few minor repairs that needed doing while we were at it.  Chiefly, the windows on our house, which appear to have been trimmed with a series of poor decisions.  Instead of brickmould and drip guards, the upper casings were just 1×4 boards nailed up to cover where the window guts/siding meet.  We didn’t like the look of that when we bought the place, so we knew we wanted to replace them with some proper trim at some point.  However, some point became NOW since the windows were also installed without any dripsills, so the 1x4s turned out to be quite rotten from water running down the siding and behind the “trim” boards (which we discovered by looking down at the window tops as we were up on the ladders powerwashing…it made me so cranky!).

Something’s rotten in the state of Minnesota.

John pulled all the rotten bits off and replaced them with recycled lumber (which is amazing stuff–essentially wood pulp suspended in epoxy, which means it will NEVER rot!) and vinyl brickmould for the upper trim (which also will NEVER rot!), and dripsills to protect the actual wood behind the trims.  Of course, unplanned repairs took a couple days more than we were hoping (and it seemed like every time you prized off a rotten board, the one under it was bad, too!), but we still got it done well before we wanted to start the actual painting.  I won’t lie, though…it was super frustrating to have ALL your windows turn out to be installed bass-ackwards.  Especially when drip sills (which would have prevented all of the rot) cost about 25 center per foot!)…no excuses!

Dripsills. Use them, people.

Recycled lumber FTW! (Pay no mind to the chips missing from the siding…John got a little zealous prying things off the house.)

We also went around and caulked our windows, and we installed a gable vent in our garage front (the garage had zero ventilation, so it got really hot in the summer and got quite musty and dank from time to time).  A 14″ x 24″ vent should help with those issues, and we got to patch the random circular hole in the siding, to boot!  (Someone maybe had a light fixture or something there at one time, but when we bought the house, there was an 8-inch hole that someone had nailed some plywood behind–it didn’t look very nice, and was (of course!) wildly off-center).

Note the weird hole on the left. I suggested we install the vent, then paint the circle yellow and add some rays and call it a sunburst. John was not amused.

John was really happy to have that patched up!

All better. John squared off the hole and used a little patch of recycled lumber board to fill it in.

And it wouldn’t be an exterior home project if we didn’t find at least one wasp nest, right?  Of course.  We found a sizeable nest of yellowjackets in the eaves on the back of the house, so we busted out the chemical warfare and sprayed them (not a fan of that stuff, but it does work).

I will say that painting your house is a fantastic way to get better acquainted with the building and spot all the little things that can be fixed now, before they cause massive problems down the road.  Just for that reason, I’m glad we decided to paint the whole house instead of just touch up the peeling north side!

Fully primed!

Finally, we got to the painting!  John was really excited to bust out the big guns–we picked up a professional-grade paint sprayer for the occasion, which made everything go SO much faster (if only we could have sprayed the primer on, too)!  We did a bit of the trim by hand (around windows and doors, just to avoid having to tape everything off or scrape overspray off the glass), but we sprayed everything else.  The hand brushing took a while, but I like painting with a brush, it’s kind of zen, so I didn’t mind.

Painting the dormer was the most nerve-wracking bit since our upper roof is pretty steep, but we got a couple ladder hooks and laid the extension ladder along the roof for purchase on either side, and to get at the front peak, we anchored a ladder to our window frame to keep it in place as we worked.  I’m not sure if there’s a better way to do it, and I feel obligated to add the “don’t try this at home, kids” disclaimer, but it worked pretty well for us (though it did make me hella nervous while we were up there.

Dip dyed–a good look, no?!

All in all, it came out really well.  I mean, it was a TON of work.  I totally get why people pay thousands of dollars for someone else to do all the heavy lifting.  I do.  I think it was good that we did it ourselves, though.  We were able to fix a few things that needed fixing, and it’s really empowering to know that we can tackle a HUGE project like that and come out the other side relatively on time, on budget, and with a satisfactory quality job.  Go team!  (And if you made it this far into the post, I would like to offer you a virtual brownie for your perseverance!  Thanks for staying with me on this one!)  And next summer, I am going to lounge in my backyard with tasty cocktails…I think I’ve met my quota of massive house projects for the time being!

[pic collage of finished job]

And just in case anyone is interested, here’s some of the stuff we used that I would totally recommend if you are in the market, so to speak (and I’m not getting paid to say any of this–these just worked really well!)

  • Valspar Reserve exterior latex (in Mark Twain Gray Brick, Cut Ruby, and Turquoise Tint)
  • Valspar Bonding Primer
  • Purdy Colossus 3/4″ nap rollers and 3″ sash brushes–high capacity rollers so you aren’t constantly scampering back to the paint tray, really solid brushes that don’t shed bristles, gum up, and wash up fantastically so you can reuse them a lot!
  • Graco Paint Sprayer – worth every red cent for all the labor it saved us, and it gave us a very even finish once we passed the learning curve (which was, mercifully, short!)
  • Werner ladder stabilizer – made the up-high work much less terrifying as it really does stabilize the ladder and get you out away from the eaves a little so you have room to work.

Byzantine Captive Beading, or Chain Maille by any other name would smell just as pinchy.

ooh shiny pretties!

Friends!  Romans!  I have found a bead store!

I know that shouldn’t be super surprising, but the bead store I really liked closed a few years ago (or so I thought), and I hadn’t really found another local source for good beads, just a few antique shops that occasionally had the odd strand of mislabeled jasper or “Check glass” beads (insert facepalm here, please).  So imagine my surprise and utter thrill when I was driving around the west ends of town one Friday and discovered the bead store I thought was closed had, in actuality, just moved from St. Paul to Minneapolis!  Hooray!  Of course I stopped in immediately and came home with *ahem* a few new beads.

I used to do a lot of beading when I was younger (believe it or not, there was an awesome bead store in my hometown that one of the highschool kids opened when I was in middle school, so it was one of the few hobbies that didn’t involve a trip to another town for supplies!)  I still have quite a few beads, but my now-30 something self doesn’t have quite the same taste that middle-school-me did (though I will always love those little stone polar bear looking beads–you know the ones…adorable!).  So I haven’t done much with beads lately and even if I wanted to, my supplies were kind of…scattered.  In that “I have one of everything and can make nothing” sort of way.  But now that I know a good bead store just down the bike path from me–well, let’s just say I see more beads in my future.

But!  You don’t want to know about future beads!  You want to see now beads, yes?!  Of course you do!  My first beading project in a long time was a pair of earrings for myself.  I like long, dangly earrings, but I’m really picky.  I found a lovely pair of giant silver-tone cutout leaves at the bead store and built my way up from there.  I knew I wanted them to be really long (think collar-bone length), and the leaves are about 2.5″ on their own, so I just needed an inch or so between the leaf and the ear wire–and while I was wandering around looking for the perfect 1.5″ bead, I stumbled upon some very cool black & white round beads, but they were only 6mm across.  Not quite the size.  But they looked super cool–black on one hemisphere, white on the other.  So I added 4 of them to my horde and kept looking.

That’s when I spied a sample pair of earrings on display with this cool interlocking jumpring setup holding smallish beads inside.  And it appeared that the beads were not in any way attached to the earrings, just held by the intersection of the jump rings–so cool!  I surreptitiously took some notes (because the earrings in question were pretty expensive), then found some 8mm giant jump rings to try it out myself when I got home.

And that’s where the needle-nose pliers come in.  And where the pinchy bits start (needle nose pliers + my fingers + stubborn jump rings =  ouch).  I knew how I wanted to hold the bead in the rings in the end, but I had some trouble getting my fingers to make it happen, so I turned to google to find out how to make captive beads in jump rings.  Turns out, it has a name!  Byzantine chain maille, to be exact.  And once I could see how it was done, it was dead easy (I was, of course, over complicating things trying to get all the rings set up and closed before I put the bead in–no wonder it wasn’t playing nice!)  Much easier to close the rings over the bead and then add the top jump ring to keep everything closed and in place.

And so I finally made myself what I think are pretty neat earrings!  Once I figured out the method, it only took about 15 minutes to get everything assembled!

I love how these turned out, and they are exactly the length I was going for!  I get lots of compliments (and a couple requests for copies!) when I wear them!

Summer House Projects 2015 — Part II – The Driveway

This is the 2nd installment in my “what I did around the house this summer” series…the first one can be found here.

Project #2 – Replace the Un-Driveable Driveway

When we bought our house, the driveway was covered in about 2.5 feet of snow–so much snow that we couldn’t even tell if the driveway approach had a curb cut–we bought and hoped for the best!  When the snow melted, we discovered we did indeed have a curb cut for the approach, but we also noticed the driveway was cracked in many places, and missing a few pieces altogether in some.

Something that’s kind of unique to Minneapolis, at least compared to any other place I’ve lived, is that nobody in the city proper actually parks in their garage except when the city declares a snow emergency.  So I’m fairly confident the previous owners rarely, if ever, actually drove on the driveway.  John, on the other hand, loooooves parking in the garage.  I suppose it’s better for the car to be protected from hail and falling limbs and roving packs of teenagers and such, but it does require a clear garage space, and I’m lazy, so it’s, erm, less of a priority for me.  However, I would still like to have the option of driving up my driveway whenever I’d like!  Unfortunately, that was a losing proposition with the driveway we had.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my un-driveable driveway, circa early 2015.  In addition to the amazing quality of being un-driveable (I’ll go into this in a moment), it was also un-shovelable, un-walkable, and un-attractive.

Before–in terrible shape!

The concrete was a thin veneer (literally, 2″ at the thickest places near the sides, but most spots were under 1″ thick).  So every time you drove over it, it cracked a bit more.  In addition, it was a super steep angle of approach (because our garage is situated right at the 8-foot minimum setback, but also had a 2 foot flat slab at the top, so we had to rise 4 feet over just 6 feet of distance…clearly this wasn’t built with modern vehicles in mind, as my little Honda Fit scraped bottom no matter what angle of approach I tried (John thinks the garage was actually built as a carriage house, so the steep angle wouldn’t have been an issue for that!).  And all winter, no matter how careful we were, every time we shoveled the snow off the driveway, we ended up shoveling chunks of concrete off, too.  Or running into holes with the shovel edge, which hurts!.  And was super demoralizing.  By the time spring rolled around, we were ready for a fix!

So it needed to be repoured.  We got several quotes, some of which were outlandish, some reasonable, but in the end, we decided to do it ourselves for the best price (and learning opportunity).  My brother volunteered to help, and my dad came out to help, too (really glad they came out, as they know how to pour concrete and I don’t!).  Our neighbors across the alley were in a similar spot, so we joined forces (and combined concrete loads) to save a few more bucks.  So we had a good crew!

All the concrete is gone–now to dig down a few inches.

When you think through the process of replacing a driveway, pouring the new one sounds like the worst part, right?  WRONG!  Digging out the old driveway was the absolute worst, most labor-intensive part of the whole process.  It took an entire day.  It was so much work!  Since we wanted to pour a once-and-for-all driveway, we decided to dig down to 5″ for the slab.  We also cut 18″ off the flat slab at the top of the approach so we could re-do the angle of approach to something much more friendly to our little Honda.  And both my dad and I are perfectionists, so we kept at it until it was the proper slope and depth. To further complicate matters, the soil under the concrete (there was no sand or proper base laid down) was very oily.  (Pretty sure 100 years of poor decisions and home oil changes saturated the dirt with oil.  Or they got bad fill before the last pour.  It was very different from the rest of the soil on our lot, which is good black dirt.)  The oil-soaked soil was sooooo heavy, and stuck to our shovels like crazy, so sometimes you lifted the same shovelful of dirt over and over until enough built up to stop and scrape off.  Ick.

But all the work paid off!  We were able to pour and finish the new driveway in about 2 hours.  And got my parents and brother out for a visit!  And my car doesn’t scrape going into the garage now!!  There are no chunks of concrete skittering off the drive, no fear of turned ankles as you walk across it, we’ll be able to shovel it this winter (perhaps even use a snowblower?!) without shooting loose concrete into the street.  And it looks SO MUCH BETTER.  And at 5 inches thick, it’s hopefully the last driveway I have to rip out and replace for a very long time!

Done and curing!!  You can see the angle change if you look at the retaining wall along the far edge!

Summer House Projects 2015 — Part I – The Garden

Now that summer’s coming to a close, I feel like a few posts to update what we did over the season are in order!  John and I have been referring to this summer as SoMPaH 2015 (Summer of Major Projects around the House), mostly because we had a few projects, and some were real doozies, so we figured we at least deserve a funky acronym!

Project #1 – Enlarge Garden Space

We kicked off the summer with a garden enlargement project.  (But of course!  In the 2+ years we’ve owned our house, the garden has been embiggened every single year).  We went from a 10′ x 12′ plot to one that’s 12′ x 15′. I think we ended up at a good size for all our growing space–enough that we could grow prettymuch everything we wanted to try without crowding, and I’d have had a hard time coming up with more stuff to grow if we had the room.

Make it bigger!!!!

I also conscripted John to build me a permanent fence for the garden (once and for all capping the size since he informed me he would not be building me more than one fence).  I thought it sounded like a fair deal!  We made panels, so if we need to replace anything, we can do just the section in need, and we backed them with chickenwire to keep the rabbits at bay.  Nothing short of a hired goon can keep the squirrels out, but so far our fence has proven itself fairly rabbit-proof!

Staining about to commence!

The finished fence!  There’s a latching gate that you can’t really see in the north side (long side to the right in the photo)

Done & done…well, almost.  When we paint the house, we’ll also paint the posts to match the trim.

I also ripped all the “decorative” rock out of the rock bed along the house (4′ x 12′ bed) to make way for sunflowers and squash.  Whoever thought that a rock bed was a good idea really should be kneecapped, at the very least.

Rock free! Look at all the glorious black dirt that was hiding under those rocks!!! For shame, former homeowners. For. Shame.

And here’s some of the rocks we pulled out:

About 1/3 of the rocks.

Sadly we have another rock bed all along the south side of our house that is equal parts rock and weeds, so I’ll get the joy of ripping that out someday, too.  For now it’s covered wth black plastic in the hope that the weeds will bake and die down a little!

Those were the major garden projects this year.  I did a fair amount of seed starting, too, but that wasn’t so much work as it was planning.  I have a seed starting post in the works for later this year, so stay tuned if that sounds interesting!

Charlotte Perkins Gilman in the 21st and a Half Century, or, a Creative Space Makeover

Dearest blog followers (imaginary though you may, in large part, be)–Today, I have a story for you.

There once was a crafty creature who hated the yellow walls of her sewing room.  She would forget she hated them for a bit, once in a while, perhaps if the episode of whatever BBC show she had on while sewing was particularly engrossing (and predominantly blue).  But the walls somehow managed to clash with nearly every scrap of fabric that crossed her table, and the room took on a ghoulish yellow tinge in the gloaming, so she was always, eventually, reminded of the yellow walls. Bad for sew-jo, it turns out.

But!  There’s an easy solution to this problem, it turns out.  (Who knew!)  Of course, it involves taking everything out of the room (disassembling the giant stack of fabric and patterns, folding up the ironing board, putting away–gasp!–the sewing machine!  Oh, lordy loo…the HORROR!!!)  That’s right folks.  The solution to the horrible Martha Stewart “Malted Yellow” walls that were slowly driving me crazy (sincere apologies if that color works for you, but for me…blech) is new paint!

If you’ve run across my blog before, you may have noticed the *ahem* lovely *ahem* yellow background in most of my pics.  I don’t know what the color is supposed to be (I assume someone once looked at it and said “wow, that’s lovely”), but it’s a weird muddy yellow that John & I have “lovingly” dubbed “Tawdry Mustard”.

Yes, there’s a bit of clutter here…but note the short knee wall…and you can see how alllllll the light was always behind me!  Gah!

I’m happy to say, I have vanquished that yellow!  I went with an almost-Tiffany-blue, something nice and bright and pretty.  The color was called Grand Hotel Mackinac Blue, which may have played a role in the decision (John’s family is very Michigan-based, so I’ve even actually been to that Hotel–it’s very fancy.  And I dig their light turquoise blue, obviously!)

Some silliness may or may not have happened during the painting of this room.

And while I was at it, I rearranged a few things…my desk used to face the short wall (which worked OK, but felt kind of…dim & stifling)–it wasn’t very well lit since no matter how I sat, I blocked the light from the ceiling fixture.  To fix that, I shifted the desk over to the wall with the windows, which opened up a lot of space in the middle of the room (I’m contemplating setting up a dedicated serger station in the corner by the door…but so far I just switch out machines at the same desk).


I also moved my “guest chair” (haha…more like hand sewing/reading chair) so it’s tucked around the corner by the windows (yay natural light!!).  Makes it a little fussy to get into that closet, but not terrible.

His royal highness approves of the chair’s new location!

The only thing that didn’t really change much was the Wall-O-Fabric.  It’s such a narrow room, that stacking the Ikea bookshelf atop the midcentury metal credenza is really the ONLY way.  (Well, if I gave up the idea of using the room as a guest room, I suppose I could put one along each wall, but with them stacked, I can still fit a queen blowup mattress in there…barely.)


And after. Obviously missing a teensy bit of fabric here (but also notice the thread tree is now attached to the side!)

It’s been a couple months since all this happened, and I think the new configuration really does make it a much nicer space!  (It’s also much faster to transform it into a guest room, which comes in handy, too!).  Overall, the lighting is better, and I’ve found my laptop fits on the shelf above my desk perfectly, which may or may not be very conducive to binge sewing while binge watching Netflix (BBC dramas, anyone?!).

I also really love the color on the walls (so much so I’m thinking of where else in the house I could use it…so far the hall/stairs, one closet, and the kitchen are still yellow, so I may tackle one of those with it sometime).  Time will tell!