Thursday, October 29, 2020

New LED cabinet lighting

 The original electrical was an absolute mess in these. When I moved in, they worked great but slowly each halogen light went out. So I ran to Home Depot and bought 5 new halogen lights, put them all in, and then...

POP     -$10
POP     -$10
POP     -$10
POP     -$10
POP     -$10


So after a very dark period of time, I finally decided to tackle this project and install new LED fixtures, each with a transformer to reduce the voltage running to the fixtures. They've worked great ever since!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

110 year old piano made by Hardman, Peck & Co., distributed by Thomas Goggan & Brothers

Found this beauty for free on NextDoor. We had it moved for $250 and the tuning cost $135, but it's been a joy!!  

Only started playing a few weeks ago so forgive the hiccup at the beginning

Built by Hardman Peck and Co. (aka Hardman & Peck), circa 1910-1915 Distributed by Thomas Goggan and Bros., Houston, TX Full upright grand Was very lucky to come across this gem, which is in spectacular condition. Many thanks to the family who was so generous as to help this phenomenal instrument find a new home. This clip was taken after having it tuned by Bil Cusack of Piano from Party Animals.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

DIY lean-to storage shed

Built this lean-to addition on the side of the workshop for storing garden tools, etc. I still need to trim it out, but the overall structure is in place which will free up lots of room in my workshop. It was a fairly quick build, although mixing the cement for the concrete foundation was dreadful since we did it in the middle of Houston summer when the heat index and humidity were at annual highs. 

The foundation required us to mix 22, 40-pound bags of cement, so we broke it up into 3 sections and tackled one section each evening. We used broken pieces of concrete that came up from the sidewalk demo as the base of the foundation to lower our supply expenses. 

The backyard was cleaned up shortly after the video. We had a washing machine out back that we picked up from a neighbor's heavy trash pile. It was a comparable model to our washing machine, so we scavenged some parts from it to replace the knobs on our machine, and grabbed out some parts to store in case we need to replace a part (We obtained our washer/dryer set for $70 used, which works great but had a few parts that were starting to show signs of wear. Now it looks brand new and didn't cost a dime to upgrade using the parts machine we found). Then we stuck the parts machine out on the curb with a sign that said "Free-- for parts or scrap only" and it vanished in under 5 minutes.

Still need to finish painting the back of the house, which we'll do now that the temperatures have dropped to a bearable 80 degrees.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Surprise donation

 A surprise donation from Fernando to the Little Free Library--new solar lights!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Researching the history of an old house

My partner and best friend of nearly 2 decades wrote this reply to a post on NextDoor. It really sums up the woes and rewards of owning an old house: 

My partner’s house (and my home) is 105 years old. I love it. To me, it’s more than a fixer-upper; it is representative of his scholastic/career achievements and sometimes I think I may have more of an emotional attachment to it than he does. I’ve seen what it was when he bought it, and the time and effort that he has put into it. I’ve also seen the signatures of the care (or lack thereof) of previous owners, and appreciate the narrative of how it’s changed through time. 

Trust me, I am no stranger to old homes— and I can tell you that they’re *huge* pains in the derrière...but worth it. 

I’ve sanded, puttied, and painted more than I ever thought I could do in a lifetime in only the past year. 

The lives that were here (like the 2nd owner that accidentally shot himself in the front room and now rests in the cemetery down the road) play into a larger picture. 

My Best has mapped out every inch of this place; researched the gas, water, and sewer lines; requested obscure documents from the city in order to determine boundary and property lines, and knows more about the layout of our neighbors’ plumbing than even they know.

 I’ve learned more about railroad right-of-ways, encroachments, and federal protection of raptor nests than your average chick. 

Old homes are not simple things.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

You know you're an old house owner when...

  1. ....the guys at the scrap metal yard are constantly astounded by the amount of aluminum siding you bring in.
  2. take scrap metal to the junkyard so often that the attendants start asking how your week has been.
  3. wear your respirator like a backwards baseball cap so often that you often forget to take it off for trips to the grocery store.
  4. ...earplugs are always dangling around your neck, even when you're doing the dishes.
  5. ...white t-shirts are no longer white
  6. buy gloves as frequently as you buy toilet paper.
  7. know the employees at the city Environmental Service Center on a first-name basis.
  8. ....the local grocery store is nicknamed "Combat Kroger."
  9. ...while removing rotten wood from the backyard, you are disappointed to find a post that no roaches came running out for you to stomp on.
  10. realize that picking an exterior paint color is one of the toughest decisions you've ever made.
  11. "You have 17 extra doors, and none of them fit any of the door-frames that are missing doors in your house!" (from my blogger friend Daniel Meyer,
  12. despise people who only build new and won't even consider reusing materials.
  13. wonder why people pay so much for simple things like drywall repairs
  14. neglect your friends and your job just for a few extra hours to work on the house
  15.'re no longer petrified of crawl spaces
  16. you trade out your car for a pickup
  17. start selling junk on Craigslist, just to get the few extra bucks for building materials
  18. the ladies at the salvage warehouse keep a running list of things you need
  19. priorities are set based on a) what's sparking* b) what's leaking c) what's causing you to trip all the time
    [*just kidding about the sparking part—thankfully haven't had, nor ever expect that issue to arise]
  20. you constantly find yourself saying, "yea, I was working on that but... [then X happened]"

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Go big or Go home: Tips for DIY LED landscape lighting

Lessons learned:

Big trees deserve big lights. Sounds simple, right? 

Yep, it really is that simple. I initially installed a smaller *ahmmm, cheaper* transformer and 20 watt floodlights on each tree in the backyard. I thought it looked amazing, stellar, fantastical, etc etc:

1st attempt, using a 45 watt transformer and 20 watt food lights on the trees

But you know what looks even better? BIGGER LIGHTS.

It didn't just end up like this overnight. The backyard, or backyard junkyard as I liked to call it, looked like this when I first started on it:

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Mask shortage

 Someone donated a set of masks in the little free library during the COVID-19 mask shortage. How cool is that!??!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Now the postal service knows how to find me

Workshop upgrades

New floor! Picked it up on sale for $65 at Northern Tool:


Installed that cute cast iron Kohler sink I bought for $60:

Added an outdoor storage cabinet that I picked up for $4 and built a little roof for it out of free materials we scavenged from heavy trash piles:

Monday, April 13, 2020

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Mouldings...mouldings EVERYWHERE!

Work in progress

I've been replacing the door casings, baseboards and window casings to better match the architectural era of the house. Luckily, I was able to find a local lumberyard that has great prices, so the materials for 42 doors and windows (which includes both the interior and exterior trim) was only $250

Took a little time to figure out how to address the 1/2" difference between the frames and the drywall, but after some trial and error, I finally found an easy solution. They've come out beautifully!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Monday, March 23, 2020

Monday, March 9, 2020

How annoying.

Bought these at a local salvage warehouse.
Later realized they didn't match....

Saturday, December 14, 2019

DIY Built-in bathroom storage shelves

Now that Renee is all moved in, we needed a place to store stuff in the bathroom, so came up with a quick fix using the space where the door used to be:

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A new enclosure for the water heater

After discovering that the 20-year-old water heater had pretty much scorched the inside of it's enclosure...

... I decided it was time to be out with the old water heater. Replaced it with a brand new, larger capacity one. The original enclosure was fine for a while, but it needed a facelift. So, here's the upgrade:

Monday, June 10, 2019


I was installing the new built-in shelves in the bathroom but forgot that there wasn't any shiplap there to nail into...

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Attic insulation

Got the attic insulated today! Clint from Mitchell Insulation added about 14 inches of blown-in fiberglass insulation into my attic today. It had only an inch or two before. Looking forward to a cooler house this summer.

Update # 1
The insulation made a HUGE difference. Also had the HVAC man out to tune-up and clean the a/c, which is a new unit he installed when I moved in. The temp inside the house has remained about 20 degrees below par. Prior to the insulation the house would have been over 80 degrees at this time of summer. Now that the insulation has been added and lots of gaps sealed up, the inside temp has remained steady at 71-73 degrees.

Update # 2
Something weird is going on. We live in a hot swamp (otherwise known as Houston) where summer temperatures commonly reach 100° with 80% humidity. While the house is indeed cooler after adding the insulation, the difference has not been quite as spectacular as my *fairly-extremely comprehensive research efforts* indicated we should expect...

Yes, Mr. Holmes, there was an investigation into this quizzical mystery. 
Upon investigation I discovered that the attic was waaay cooler than the house. 
FRIGID COOL.  Much unlike the interior living quarters. 
In fact, the temperature is much more comfortable in the attic.
That's bizarre.

We troubleshooted:
      Is it an unconnected duct blowing cool air into the attic?

      Is it a leak in the air duct system?

      Is it anything else that a reasonably seasoned and knowledgeable homeowner should be able to identify?
          Apparently not. 

      So what is it????
            Beats me. Not a clue. 

So riddle me this:
Why—in a hot southern swamp—would a previously boiling attic become a freezer after blowing in one-metric-ton of insulation?

I have no answers. 
The internet—it seems—has no answers.
Or does it?



 Is it just me, or does Great Stuff Spray Foam look a lot like sweet and sour chicken?

Friday, November 30, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Building the front porch columns

Here's what the original porch columns looked like when the previous owner moved in:

Unfortunately, the original wood columns were in disrepair, so he replaced them with brick. I'm perplexed as to why he chose to install brick columns, since he was such a skilled carpenter.

Step 1: Sledgehammer out the bricks

A local laborer was able to knock this out in about 20 minutes. I piled up the debris and posted it on the free section of Craigslist, along with the note 'You must load.' Like magic, it vanished.

The original support posts were just (2) 2x4's sistered together. The support on the inside column was not bearing any was just kind of...floating there.
Step 2: Replace rot on the frieze board, grind down concrete base caps

First, we jacked up the header beams with 4x4's placed on bottle jacks and used a long level to ensure the beams were straight.

While the jacks were in place, I used a diamond grinding wheel to level out the base caps so that the new wood base would sit flush on the concrete caps. Using the grinder, I slightly tapered off the edges of the caps so that rainwater would drain away from the wood:



The frieze board (that's the underside of the porch that rests on top of the columns) was rotted. This meant the porch was in danger of collapsing down if not repaired, since the support beams need a solid surface to bear the load. So we repaired the rotted sections:



Step 3: Install new 6x6 supports

Then, we measured and marked where to place the 6x6 metal beam holders, which lifts the wood off the concrete, thereby preventing rot by keeping the new beams dry. Next, we cut the new 6x6 supports and test fitted them for level. We then removed them and drilled the metal lifts into the concrete caps. Finally, we placed the new supports, checked for level again and lowered the bottle jacks:

Step 4: Build column base

Gabriel gave me dimensions for the wood base pieces, so I was able to tackle these while he was away:

Step 5: Build column housing

Gabriel and I prepped all the pieces that make up the actual columns. He was the brains of the operation. Couldn't have done it myself without him!

Step 6: Glue, nail and trim them out


Project Cost

Demolition labor - $20
Brick debris removal - $0 (gave away on Craigslist)
Lumber - $200
Metal supports - $35
Screws and bits for metal supports - $20
Carpenter's labor - $60 (bartered for trade of the contractor saw I bought on Craigslist for $60)

Special thanks for my friend, pro-carpenter Gabriele for helping with this project. He was a great teacher and fun to work with!