Friday, September 25, 2009

When good projects go bad

I've hesitated posting about this because it doesn't fit my image of us. We are seasoned DIYers after all, we know what we are doing and we are perfectionists (at least Steve is, it only takes one anyway). I've singlehandedly refinished over 1000 feet of oak and a dozen doors after all. Steve builds furniture by hand (the hard way/the craftsman way). We don't make mistakes. (cough cough)

But then I thought to myself, "Self, you haven't got that much going on with the house that you can post on the blog to be so choosey" and "Self, aren't you supposed to be all about keeping it real?? This isn't some HGTV show after all. I mean, really."

So I decided to share our recent disappointment with one of our previous projects. The thing with DIY is you don't want the work just to look good when you finish it, you want it to last a really really long time so you don't have to do it again for God's sake.

Sometimes, it doesn't work out that way. And yes, this even happens to people like me Steve who do their homework and have been doing DIY for almost a decade. It happens because....(hear this all ye disgruntled contractors!!)--we are not professionals. And actually, now that I think about it- things can go wrong for professionals too. So there.

So now you want the dirt right? Everyone always does.
It was late in the season, November 2007 to be exact and we were worried our dilapidated garage door would not make it another winter and would splinter and crack into pieces leaving a garage without a door, which would be certain disaster (relatively speaking of course).

We would have started sooner, but we got behind and didn't find a a replacement door  until mid-October...

From that point, it was a race to finish the door before it got too cold. The door was painted and needed to be stripped. That was my job.

I did my usual heat gun and strypeeze combo outside in the backyard and all seemed well until I put the first coat of primer and some red dye seemed to be bleeding through. Uh oh.

As it was now November and getting colder fast, we perservered and continued painting. Steve replaced the glass panes, fabricated muntins for the missing pieces, and concentrated on framing the door.

It was one of those times I felt bad for Steve because he was working outside in not very nice weather (see photo) and there was no turning back. Kind of like when you go on a hike and the weather turns bad, really bad. You have to hike back, no option. That's the kind of project replacing an outside door is. You can't just leave it till next year when the weather is better etc... From this and other such experiences, I don't recommend starting a project like this so late in the season. Live and learn.

Anyway, Steve managed to get the new framing and trim in though I recall some choice words uttered and real frustration with the fit. He wasn't 100% happy with the finish carpentry.

I remember he said (almost as a warning to the errant trim), "I'll be redoing this in the Spring!" And I was like, "Oh, great. Can't wait." I didn't say that out loud mind you, just thought to myself. I'm not that dumb. Rather, I behaved more along the lines of, "I'll make dinner tonght okay?" and "I'll do the grocery shopping and bake some cookies for you okay, honey?" And Steve said in reply, "grrrr. okay."

Painfully, he managed to get the door finished before Christmas. And after that punishing end to the season, we took a much deserved break.

Happy ending right? Not exactly. This is a good project gone bad so it doesn't have a happy ending.

Remember that red stain bleeding through the white primer? Well that seemed to effect the bonding of the paint to the wood. It was either that or the cold temperatures that caused the paint to fail in several places.
So, for the past two years, I have scraped, caulked and painted that door . Steve hasn't redone the trim yet either. We've had other fish to fry and there's still some healing to do before we revisit this project.

I never posted about this because it was so annoying and I couldn't stand to write about it, but now after a few years have gone by, I have enough detatchment it's okay now. These things happen when you are a DIYer and in life. Things don't always go as planned. It's another important lesson and another life lesson that we have fully actualized through our DIY activities. Life as a house. It really fits sometimes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Battening Down the Hatches

It's that time of year. Time to prepare for another long Chicago winter. What does this mean at Chicago 2-flat? Well, it means painting exposed wood, re-glazing some old windows, patching our hot tar garage roof, touching up our building's rubber roof with a reflective aluminum coating, securing and caulking the clay coping tiles on the parapet (finally!!),  and some minor concrete repairs.

It's all about keeping water- that natural nemesis of homes -out! And also keeping heat in and the cold -- out!


The basement front window glazing was really tired so we re-glazed and then painted the windows white to match the other windows on the building.

Eventually we are going to replace these windows, but for now it's periodic maintenance. Glazing secures the panes in place within the window muntins and makes the windows more airtight, therefore helping with conserving energy and keeping the warm air inside during the winter.

Obviously, painting wood prevents it from rotting prematurely too.


The garage door paint was failing in some places unforunately. We think perhaps the temperature was too cold when we originally painted it or there was some residue that was not stripped totally when we stripped it. Not fun, but these things happen sometimes!

Here I'm caulking cracks with painters caulk. Two coats of paint and a brass kick plate and hopefully the door will hold for a few more years until Steve builds us a new one.


Steve placing the backer rod prior to caulking all the coping tiles around the parapet. This was supposed to be done three years ago but we ran out of time before winter...three years in a row!

Honestly I can't believe we went that long with unsecured coping tiles.

Steve applied Vulkem 116 roofing caulk. We counted ourselves lucky that the $100 worth of caulk we bought a few years ago was still usable.

A few of the tubes were too stiff to use, but the rest were okay. Funny thing is, I remember balking back when we bought it. "Are you sure we need that right now?" 3 years later and we finally used it. A cause celebre.

And here you can see a full view of the roof and the scope of the job. I also spray painted the roof vents while we were up there.

After powering through a number of these tasks last weekend and feeling that "kicking ass and taking names" feeling, I was joking with Steve. I said we should change our house slogan to, "We do more in one weekend than some people do in a whole year."

Of course, after a 2nd weekend of work, we're a little more reserved now. But almost finished for the season!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Field Trip: Rich's Foxwillow Pines

We are BIG pine tree fans here at the 2-flat. Actually to give credit where its due, I'll admit that Steve is the one who has given me the appreciation I have for evergreens. Take a walk with him sometime around a neighborhood in Chicago and listen. Chances are you will hear him say gazing upon some new condo conversion, "They should have planted some pine trees."

Being a native of Michigan, the source of the many a Christmas tree in these parts, it's no big surprise that Steve is loyal to this noble tree. He also spent some of his childhood living on a lake and has a love of being near water. That's why we live 2 blocks from Lake Michigan and why Steve never ever wants to move. In my weaker moments, I would consider moving west to get away from some of the urban headaches, but Steve would never go for it. I love him for that.

Steve is our tree keeper, while I tend the perennials. It's a system that works for us. For several years, he has wanted to visit Rich's Foxwillow Pines in Woodstock- THE place for pine trees. They specialize in specimen trees and smaller sized trees ideal for city lots.

Here's Steve pensively studying the price guide at Rich's under the share of a massive willow tree.

I'm happy to say that things have died down enough with our house projects that we can start doing those things that we have been wanting to do for while. Call it a bucket list if you like- as far as life goes, after 40, one starts to want to "make it count." That's kind of where we are at right now. Some of these things are small, like "visit the new Modern Wing," some are bigger like, "visit the Canadian Rockies."

As I mentioned, Rich's specializes in dwarf trees suitable for smaller spaces. He even has a whole collection of teeny tiny tees. Those of you with only a balcony could make an AMAZING miniature "forest" in a large pot!

The place kind of rambles around and goes on and on seemingly endlessly. At the spot pictured at left, I came across a painted turtle and heard frogs grunting.

And there were robins absolutely everywhere.

If pine trees aren't your thing (God forbid!), he has 500 varieties of hostas also. And he has 35 acres down the road, which he uses to maintain his inventory levels. We met Rich while we were there and he was kind enough to drive us around in his cart and show us a few things. He's an affable fellow and it's always great to meet someone who has found their passion and loves what they do.

We were looking for ideas for adding some more trees to the backyard and we found some. Now we just need the m-o-n-e-y, which we will be able to budget for next year.

So, why do we love pine trees so? Quite simply, they are evergreen and provide year round color, which is sorely needed in a long Chicago winter.

Besides that, they provide a needed structure in the garden, sanctuary for birds, they smell nice and there are so very many varieties, shapes and sizes.

So, that in a nutshell covers our visit to Rich's Foxwillow Pines.