Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Tag: Windows

Curb Appeal Take III – Replacing the Window Wells

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The first time we showed our parents the picture of the ranch, they offered nothing but support, encouragement and endless joy for us. Of course this was not a beautiful and flawless new construction they wish we had bought, but being house owners themselves, our parents understood the value of a well-built old home. Their eyes were all on the positive features about our ranch (and also because they love us).

But one thing both side of our parents asked (with reasonable amount of the hesitation), was “what are these rusted metal thingy sticking out of the ground? ”

It took us a while to realize that they were asking about the window wells. It made us realize that how quickly we got used to these window wells. The questions from our folks reminded us (very much needed) how these window wells stood out to us when we first laid our eyes on this house, and to other people who see the house for the first time.

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With all the other high-priority to-dos in the store, something cosmetic like window wells just have to take a back seat. But we did not forgot them. These rusty wells are on our minds every task we tackle. We lowered the soil around them when we removed the front flower bed, we demo-ed the sagging front porch in order to replace one of them properly, and we cleared out vegetation during the HVAC installation. Hey, we even replaced one ourselves during the construction of our new back patio!

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Successfully replaced a window well ourselves really taught us a lot. We are now fully confidence that we could do a good job replacing them ourselves, and we are now sure that the 24″ plastic well and the ridge, plastic cover are perfect fits for our basement windows.

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We also realized that replacing these wells is a task we need to complete before grading around our foundations. Since we need to finish the grading before winter, which can be early as October for Colorado, replacing window wells floats right on top of our to-do list.

Besides the one for basement utility room, which we replaced a few weeks ago, there are six more we need to tackle:

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Above are the two window wells on the northern side of the house. The two windows you are looking at are for the two bedrooms in the basement. We would like to get as much sunlight from these windows as possible, so the goal is to put the wells as low as possible into the ground.

And this was when we realized – these two window wells are not functional! They sat directly ON the soil. All the water came in the well directly flew out of the well from the bottom to the surface of the lawn, which does not make much sense. You know what this means – what if we just do not use window wells on these two windows?

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It sounded scary at the beginning, but after thought it through, we could see no harm done. So Slav removed the wells and we were sooo pleased that how much natural light streamed into these windows! And the best part? The cost of dealing with these two window wells is ZERO!

So on this side of the yard, we went from this:

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to this:

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This left us four more windows to deal with – the one used to be buried in the old flower bed:

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The one used to sit in the old front porch:

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And two at the back of the house:

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Yeah. They look baaaaad…

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The two wells at the back are almost sitting above the soil as well. But the difference between these wells and the ones on the northern side, is that the soil level on the northern side is already near where they should be for adequate drainage, but the soil near the back of the house needs to be built up. So the two back wells cannot be eliminated. However, we can set them a bit lower into the ground, which allows more light into these windows.

Once the plan is set, I went to the Home Depot and got four sets of window wells and covers, and Slav started digging the old ones out:

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It took him about 4 hours to remove the old wells and dig out these big enough area for the new wells:

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So. Rusty!

When we replaced our patio window well last time, the most time consuming part is to drill holes into the concrete foundations. We just do not have the right drill for it and it took forever. So this time, with four wells for installation, we decided to pick up a hammer drill for the job. While Slav was in the store picking up the drill, I cleaned the windows and marked the drill holes with measuring square and levels.

With the new drill, Slav was able to put on all four wells in just an hour:

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Then we back-filled, again, with me supporting the wells from the inside just like last time. It took us a few more hours to level the ground, until it was dark. But the result was well worth it!

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It was pretty dusty during our work. Charlie boy was happy to enjoy a drink after the dust had settled:

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These window wells really look good! By burying three out of four wells deeper, the basement bedrooms became so much brighter. The next step is to finish grading around the house perimeters and use pretty gravel to dress up the bare ground around the house. And guess what? Dirt and gravel will be delivered to our door tomorrow morning! Our curb appeal is about to get reaaaaaal-good!

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Small Project, Big Impact

Roof, fence, patio, sewage…the ranch renovation list continues. Demo work and big projects are dusty and they take days to weeks to complete. Doing big projects one after another inevitably made a big dent on our patience and comfort. One day we got up and just craved some easy projects – the ones take half an hour to complete but can greatly improve the look of a room.

Here are the four things we did in two hours for some instant gratification:

1. Replacing the stove drip pans

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This is our kitchen right now. It was dark, and foot traffic from garage and backyard keeps it dusty. The choppy layout does not make things any better – I dislike it so much that I’ve not started cooking yet! Since we are not gonna tackle the kitchen anytime soon, we HAVE TO improve it a little bit, at least to the level that I can stand cooking in this room.

So one morning, while I was sipped on my morning tea, I asked myself – what is the one thing I could change to get the biggest bang for the buck?

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The drip pans! It was foil-protected, which I hate. But as soon as I started peeling off the foil, I realized why – the drip pans were all terribly rusted.

A 10-min drive to Lowe’s fixed it immediately:

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I started cooking Chinese food now!

2. Fixing broken window screens

Our window situation is a big mess. We have new vinyl window in the living room and basement bedrooms, but most of the main floor rooms have old aluminum windows. Quite a few window screens were missing on the old windows, and some were torn on the new windows:

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There are not nearly as many bugs here as in NC, but there are still flies and mosquitoes. While door-hunting in the Habitat for Humanity, we picked up a few screens to put up on the old windows. We could finally open the bathroom windows now!

Unfortunately, for the basement window shown above, there was nothing that fits. So we picked up a much larger one for the material.

Front, our broken screen panel; back, the $5 old screen we bought.

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The frame of our broken panel was still in a good shape. What’s broken was the seal strip.

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We bought a screen that used the same seal strip:

Left: our broken screen; right, new screen

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I started by using a fork to pry the broken seal strip out of its channel, which freed the broken screen.

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Then I used the fork to take the intact seal strip and screen off the panel we bought, and fit them into our small window frame:

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Last, trim off excess screen.

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Taadaa!

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Opening all the windows invites fresh and cool air into the rooms – I do not feel the need of air conditioner at all. Cannot speak the same for Slav though.

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3. Taking the satellite dish off our roof

The is the current state of our back porch. See the eye sore in this picture?

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Which one? You may ask. Well, I am gonna ask you to please ignore the porch itself, and the low hanging telephone wire, and the camping chairs and plastic cooler, and the paint-peeling backdoor. Bring your eye up to the roof…

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The satellite dish! The previous family living here wired telephone and satellite into EVERY ROOM. which made many holes on the exterior walls and there are black wires EVERYWHERE.

Slav pays close attention to anything tech and this satellite dish really bothered him. So he took a ladder and his drill to it, while I was working on the window screens:

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He first took down the wires held to the roof soffit, then freed the satellite dish on the roof:

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Gone! It took him like 15 minutes (due to rusty screws).

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Better, right? OK, I’d admit that as soon as Slav climbed down from the ladder, he said, “now the porch cover is a real eye sore”. Without the satellite dish, every other eye sore just grew much bigger. Well, one thing at a time.

4. No more carpet on the stairs!

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If there is a bigger crime than carpet over hardwood floor, it must be carpet over stairs.

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Even worse, in our case, this is the only set of stairs going to the basement, where the laundry room is. It is also right next to the backdoor and the garage door. Let me tell you, it is impossible to keep it clean!

I intentionally looked away during the whole first month we lived here, which was very hard for me! It helps that I do not go down basement except doing laundry. But lately, with warmer weather, I started sensing a pee smell brewing near the backdoor. And after sniffing around (gross, I know), I narrowed down to the stairs! I suspect that the small dog used to live in this house used this stair as a wee-wee pad.

So on this small project day, I got on it:

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The carpet were installed in small sections so they were really easy to pull off. After gaining some experience from pulling off the main floor carpet, the process went pretty fast:

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The underlayment was not even continuous, making things much easier. It took me about 5 minutes to pull them off and to expose the staples and tack strips:

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Doesn’t it already look better?

I took the staples out while Slav worked on the tack strips. Within an hour, the stairs went from dirty carpet to this:

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Some TSP solution made it instantly one shade lighter:

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The stringers are in white color, whereas the risers and treads were painted yellow. Just like everything else in this house, the paint job shows zero craftsmanship.

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We plan to paint the thread a darker color and the risers white, AFTER we find a way to keep the dogs off these stairs. The dogs each picked a bedroom downstairs to sleep (yes there are very spoiled), so they are the real users of the stairs. Charlie comes up from his nap every a few hours to beg for treats. And Roxie, OMG. This girl absolutely adores stairs – she runs up and down every ten minutes! She runs down to check on Charlie, she runs up to check on what we are building/cutting/demoing, she runs up to the backdoor to keep an eye on squirrels, and she runs back down again to let Charlie know about the squirrels… Could I train dogs to use only one half of the stairs? What do you think?

Here they are, our four small upgrades in two hours. As you can see, we are still at the demo phase – Nothing new is coming in yet, Everything we have done is to take things down! And let me tell you, the next one to go will be some thing big and ugly, something made in metal. Care to take a guess?

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